Retention of air-raid shelters favoured over redevelopment

73 dwellings and the provision of two community buildings have been refused at an open site in an Essex town centre for harm to the appearance and character of the surrounding conservation area, harm to the setting of nearby listed buildings and harm from the large-scale loss of designated and non-designated WWII air-raid shelters. The inspector also identified a lack of safe and suitable access for all users to and from the site, lack of affordable housing and open space provision and insufficient investment in necessary off-site infrastructure.

One of the main issues in the case related to the impact of the proposal on heritage assets. The site was located in a town centre conservation area significant for its 19th century historic architecture and industrial uses of buildings. Nearby listed buildings comprised grade I and II listed churches as well as grade II listed artisan workers housing. The site also accommodated 15 of the only known surviving examples of Costain  WWII air-raid shelters, some designated by virtue of being within the curtilage of other listed buildings and within the conservation area, others considered non-designated heritage assets.

In assessing the impact of the proposed housing and community buildings on the heritage assets, the inspector held the scale of urban development and its positioning close to existing boundaries would strictly limit the space available for soft landscaping and public open space, giving the scheme a cramped and overdeveloped appearance which, together with the loss of a significant number of trees, would detract from the character and appearance of the conservation area and compete inappropriately with adjoining listed buildings.

Finally, the loss of most of the historic air-raid shelters as a result of the scheme would, in the inspector’s view, erode the historic significance of the group of shelters and that of the conservation area and nearby listed buildings as a whole, resulting in less than substantial harm. In the heritage balance, the inspector found this harm outweighed the public benefits of the new homes and community buildings especially given the lack of affordable housing and open space and there was, therefore, clear reason to refuse the proposal.

Inspector: M Heron; Written representations

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