Daventry leisure complex given green light despite heritage concerns

Councillors in Northamptonshire have approved plans for a town centre cinema and restaurant development despite the local authority's own conservation officer raising concerns about the demolition of a library building to make way for it.

A visualisation of the proposals for the cinema development in Daventry town centre
A visualisation of the proposals for the cinema development in Daventry town centre

Daventry District Council is both the applicant and planning authority in relation to the plans to demolish a library building and develop a four-screen cinema and restaurants alongside a new public square and fountains.

The site sits within a larger area of the town centre earmarked for the Mulberry Place regeneration scheme. Plans for a similar scheme were approved by the council in 2013, despite an objection from heritage watchdog English Heritage.

According to a planning report, Historic England - the successor to English Heritage - advised that the proposal was an "improvement on the approved scheme" and offered "no objection to the application on heritage grounds".

However, a Daventry Council conservation officer advised that demolition of the library building "would result in the loss of a non-designated heritage asset and harm to the character and appearance of the town centre conservation area".

While advising that the harm from demolition would be "less than substantial", the officer raised concerns about the proposed site layout and materials and described the proposed development as "too boxy with too many protruding and angular elements", the report said. 

Planning officers noted that the potential to retain the existing building and the harm caused by its demolition was "a finely balanced issue". However, they concluded that demolition swiftly followed by redevelopment would "represent an overall public benefit".

Officers also advised that the proposal "is in compliance with several key policies" within the West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy, saved policies within the Daventry District Local plan, and the council’s emerging Part 2 Local Plan.

"The loss of undesignated heritage assets is regrettable but, in light of the design quality of the scheme proposed and the public benefits offered overall, the current scheme can be supported," they said.

Daventry District Council said work on the development was expected to begin in May with a view to the cinema opening in the autumn of 2020.

Plans for the wider town centre redevelopment suffered a setback, however, when a development agreement between the council and Henry Boot Developments to deliver a retail scheme was terminated last week.

Henry Boot Developments had been expected to develop shops and a hotel in the town centre but the firm said it had concluded that the project was undeliverable.

Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments, said: "While interest from national retailers has been encouraging, market conditions and infrastructure costs have unfortunately made the scheme unviable."

David James, portfolio holder for economy, regeneration and employment at Daventry District Council, said: "The council recognises the substantial investment made by Henry Boot and regrets that this partnership will need to come to an end.

"However, we do have a range of stores who want to come to Daventry, and the council will explore how best to make this possible."

Last week a cross-party group of MPs published a report calling for a "comprehensive review of planning as it pertains to the high street" in a bid to revive ailing town centres across the UK.

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