In an unprecedented intervention, Harrogate's civic guardians have launched a blistering attack on lavish plans for Crescent Gardens which they claim amount to the virtual demolition of one of the town's most iconic buildings.
Writing in a letter in this week's print edition of the Harrogate Advertiser, Harrogate Civic Society attacks Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe’s £75 million luxury redevelopment of the former council headquarters as amounting to the demolition of the whole building and the diminution of the area’s role as a public space.
The developer himself has said in the past that the creation of world-class apartments plus a new art gallery and a restaurant in an attractive parkland setting would respect both the building while doing justice to its public role and long heritage as a key part of Harrogate town centre.
But Henry Pankhurst, chairman of Harrogate Civic Society said, in his opinion, the more he saw of plans for the 60,000 sq ft development, the less they seemed to reflect the town's original hopes for the scheme.
Mr Pankhurst said: “Harrogate Borough Council seem to have allowed the proposals to diverge beyond recognition from those originally put forward, which the Civic Society was prepared to support.
“The grand scheme for ‘lifestyle’ apartments with underground parking, plus swimming pool and gym under the roadway, can only be accomplished by complete demolition, due to the massive amount of excavation. It is intended that only the front elevation be rebuilt, but with alteration to the windows. This treatment is unacceptable.
“This heritage asset has not achieved Listed building status but it does have protection under conservation area policies.”
Speaking on behalf of Mr Thorpe, Henry Squire, partner in Squire & Partners LLP of London, the project’s architects, said the plans aimed to to strike the balance between maintaining the character of the conservation area and also bringing a dilapidated building back to life and re landscaping the whole of Crescent Gardens.
Mr Squire said: “We believe the building’s essential character is being conserved, that of being a neo-classical building sitting on a public square, and greatly improved.
“We believe that the proposal to carefully dismantle, take away, clean and repair and re-install the front facade is very different from a completely new building.
"The plans will improve the appearance of the building both on the front and rear elevations.
“The architecture of the building is not as good as some of the surrounding neighbours and the rear elevation is very poor, indeed.
"We have investigated in some detail the potential to re-use the existing building in its entirety for the clients use (high-end residential).
"Whilst it is possible to fit residential accommodation into the existing building it is heavily compromised.
"There are a number of changes of level, difficulties in making units work, difficulties in access, there would be a lot of single aspect units with poor outlook, and the quality and type of accommodation provided would render the scheme unviable.
"We are keeping the external façade of the central section but we do not believe the interiors are important enough to keep to warrant the huge effect on the viability of the scheme if we keep them.
"We believe the new art gallery that we are putting back will be a truly special space and much better than what is currently there.
"It will be a public space with no entrance fee.
“We are also going to re-use some existing arches from the earlier 1870 building in the new façade and we are retaining the stained glass window and re-using it in the new windows at the rear."
Developer Adam Thorpe's company is expected to submit a full planning application for Crescent Gardens to Harrogate Borough Council by the end of April.