Demolition of historic Harpenden building granted planning permission - after it is already knocked down

The demolished house is near East Common in Harpenden. Picture: Google Maps

The demolished house is near East Common in Harpenden. Picture: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

A locally listed building in Harpenden was demolished without planning permission amid extension work.

The original Eastmoor Lodge house was the only remaining 1930s building left on its road near East Common, and was in the Harpenden Conservation Area.

Despite being locally listed as an undesignated heritage asset, applications to extend and change the building were approved under delegated authority by St Albans district council (SADC) officers.

While these legal works were underway, the rest of the building was also taken down in sections.

A shell of a new house was already partially erected when a retrospective planning application for the demolition was submitted to SADC.

Mark Wilkinson, of architects Louis de Soissons, wrote a report explaining their decision, dated May 30: "At the commencement of the planned demolition works it became apparent the original 1930's [sic] property had been very poorly constructed with minimal foundations, inadequate quantity of wall ties and very weak mortar."

It has all now been retrospectively approved by the SADC Planning (Development Control) Committee North on May 13.

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However, councillors stressed in the meeting that given the choice, they would not have approved the original extension.

Stephen Levrant, from Heritage Architecture, spoke for the applicant. He said after all the changes, the former building contained only two walls of the original 1930s structure and that the former architect had been "dismissed and disgraced": "The fact is, the structure was unsafe, due to many consented alternations and had inherent major defects from the original construction which in itself was substandard.

"You have not lost any valuable local listed building due to this application. Its fate was sealed long ago."

Cllr Sandra Wood said she was very uncomfortable with the decision and is worried about what message it sends out.

Cllr Paul Cousin said the "test" to knock it down was not met, but that the previous approved applications were significant: "So what are we saying? Are we suggesting they rebuild the original house?

"If we want them to do that, they have got permission to make it look like the thing that is in front of us anyway so it would seem to be a complete waste."

Response by the directors of Louis de Soissons Ltd to the article above

The above article, first published on 20 May 2019, reported on a meeting of the St Albans District Council Planning Committee concerning Eastmoor Lodge. Mark Wilkinson and his firm of Architects, Louis de Soissons Ltd have responded to the allegation made at the meeting that they had been 'dismissed' from the Eastmoor Lodge project and 'disgraced'.

They wish to make it clear to readers that in fact Louis de Soissons Ltd were not 'dismissed' from the project but chose to withdraw from their appointment as Architects. Nor were Louis de Soissons 'disgraced' either privately or publicly. They note that it is unfortunate that such statements were made in a public forum without them first having the opportunity to verify the facts.

Louis de Soissons were the third architects engaged on this project and as such their responsibility was for design and contract administration. They were not appointed to advise the building owners on town planning or heritage matters.

At no time did they advise the building owners to demolish the existing house totally, nor did they advise them to continue with the construction without notifying the council.

Notwithstanding this, their advice (regarding the issues surrounding the poor state of the building fabric and action taken to minimise the health and safety risks present) provided strong supporting evidence for the successful application.

As a long-established architects' practice with a great deal of history and expertise in projects of this nature they take their responsibilities to their clients, the built environment and impact on local communities very seriously.

They are pleased that the right outcome was reached at the recent planning committee meeting despite the rather challenging circumstances that surrounded this project. A central part of the application submission was their creative design and supporting information."