Wednesday 17 July 2024
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Concerns for Nottingham’s historic caves as 900-bed student blocks tipped for approval

Conservationists fear much of Nottingham’s history is “disappearing” after a 900-bed student scheme on the site of historic civic buildings and cave chambers was tipped for approval by city planners.

Developers Miller Birch Limited has proposed to demolish the former Nottingham city central police and fire station, which fronts Shakespeare Street, North Church Street and South Sherwood Street, to pave the way for student accommodation.

The police and fire station buildings originally opened in the 1940s and were designed to be bomb-proof.

Upkeep was said to be financially unviable in 2013 by then Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping, and the site was sold off.

Under new plans, one block would be operated by Vita Student, with enough room for 512 studio flats, while a second apartment building would be operated by House of Social with room for a further 454 apartments.

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The buildings would range in height from eight storeys to a maximum of 13 storeys, and the development would also feature a ground floor public food hall at the corner of Shakespeare Street and North Church Street.

Nottingham City Council’s planning officers have recommended the development for approval, despite strong opposition Nottingham Civic Society and Historic England.

Concern over the impact on Grade-II listed cave chambers, which sit below the site and are associated with the Grade-II listed Guildhall building in Burton Street, have been raised. Thue Guildhall is not part of the application.

Ian Wells, of the Nottingham Civic Society, argued the historic buildings should be retained and re-purposed.

He said: “There are listed buildings nearby and you are going to impact on those.

“You have got the YMCA at the end of Shakespeare Street which is of the same vintage, done by Cecil Howitt, and you have the listed Arkwright Building the opposing side.

“And they have got some quite tall buildings which they want to put on the site. It is this upwards thrust, that would loom over those other buildings which have been carefully preserved.

“The fire station and police station were at the back of the Guildhall, and then they demolished slums in Shakespeare Street to make way for the buildings as they are today.

“The buildings were designed in the 1920s and 1930s to be bomb-proof, with long, narrow windows. This is one of the remaining buildings of this time.

“And of course, you have the caves, which have existed since the 1860s, once used by a wine merchant.

“It is a very important building. We accept that things are going to be adapted, but so much of Nottingham is just disappearing.

“It is worrying.”

According to an archaeological assessment, one of two entrances to the cave chambers beneath the site will be lost, while a single pile will be driven into a chamber as part of the development’s structural foundations.

The location for the pile is understood to be “acceptable”, documents say, but concern remains over the impact on the surrounding rock when works take place.

Historic England and the Nottingham Civic Society have both objected to the demolition of the buildings and say the cave chambers are “nationally significant”.

A decision will be made at a planning committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18.

According to planning documents the developer says: “Effort has been made to minimise the impact of the proposed development upon the cave system, including the relocation of a number of piles away from the cave chambers.

“The proposed location of the pile within the affected chamber ensures that the volume and character of the space remain appreciable, that the pile will be legible as a modern addition, and that the ability to understand the chamber’s previous function would be unaffected.”

And addressing concerns over the impact of the tower blocks on the listed buildings in the area, planning documents add: “Significant efforts have been made to ensure that the scale, mass, and design of the proposed development will make a positive contribution to the street scene of Shakespeare Street.”

Separate plans have already been lodged to transform the Guildhall building, on the corner of Burton Street and South Sherwood Street, into a hotel.

It was once home to a magistrates’ court and a fire and police station after it was built in 1887.

Its last occupant was Nottingham City Council, before being left vacant.

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