The Society has been campaigning over the past few years to save Walton Court, the former Birds Eye Headquarters in Surrey. This building by Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, was listed Grade II in 1995. Yesterday Elmbridge Borough Council voted to approve its demolition.
Birds Eye was one of a large number of firms who moved their offices from central London to sites across the South East during the 1960s. They commissioned high-quality, technologically advanced offices, with carefully planned facilities and integrated landscape for their new HQ.
The current plans for demolition and residential redevelopment came to the Society’s attention in 2017, after the site was bought by Crest Nicholson. We have been concerned about the building for a long time, as it has been empty for the last 10 years. The Society considers Walton Court to be suitable for residential conversion, although Crest Nicholson argue that this would not be economically viable.
Government instructs local planning authorities that they should only grant consent for total demolition of a listed building in very exceptional circumstances. They should not grant consent unless applicants have conclusively proved that the loss of the building is necessary to deliver substantial public benefit. We are not persuaded that the case of ‘substantial public benefit’ has been made. In this case the applicants argue that only by demolishing Walton Court can much-needed housing be provided in Elmbridge. The Society is not convinced that providing new housing is a big enough public benefit to outweigh the loss of the historic building. Crest Nicholson have not made the case that Walton Court cannot continue to be used. We also are unconvinced that housing cannot be provided anywhere else in the borough.
An independent assessment of the potential for conversion was undertaken, which called many of the points made by the applicants into question, including their estimation that the financial loss brought by a conversion-based scheme would be around £11 million.
We are greatly disappointed that Historic England withdrew their formal objection to the proposed demolition, although they consider the building to be architecturally and historically significant.
This case has highlighted failures in current planning legislation’s protection for historically important buildings. We are disappointed that Elmbridge Council have approved this application. We feel it is definitely a case that should have been be taken to public enquiry, so that the relative benefits of the heritage and housing issues could be publicly debated. The Society is deeply concerned by the precedent this case could set, and we are exploring the options available to us to continue to fight against demolition.
For more information about Walton Court’s history, please see our Building of the Month piece.