A bid to resolve the impasse over the future of a fire damaged historic building in the centre of Wisbech will involve changing a planning application to partial demolition.
Fenland District Council has revealed the outcome of a meeting with architects and advisers of the former Cashino slots store at 5 Market Place.
Danielle Brooke, the council’s senior development manager, says it was apparent from the meeting “that the structural engineers feel that the front façade may be able to be retained and repaired, which is the preference of FDC and Historic England”.
Historic England had earlier thrown a gigantic spanner in the works to early hopes of the building being demolished any time soon.
It says “no clear and convincing justification has been provided” to support the level of demolition and rebuilding proposed.
Historic England -the government’s statutory adviser – wants more evidence to justify demolition.
Ms Brooke has given the owners until the end of September to get their ducks in a row prior to the council being able to decide the best way forward.
She says that following the recent meeting, the council feels that the applications for demolition should be changed to “partial demolition of a fire damaged listed building.
“It was considered that the heritage significance assessment, planning statement, and written scheme of investigation appeared to be comprehensive and appropriate to the proposals with a clear intention to a sympathetic approach to the works, respecting the heritage of the building.
“However, there are some discrepancies in these documents with some stating that the front façade will be demolished whilst others state this will be retained”.
Ms Brooke says that it was apparent from the meeting “that the structural engineers feel that the front façade may be able to be retained and repaired, which is the preference of FDC and Historic England.
“As such, where referenced and without evidence to the contrary, it should be intended to retain the front façade this should be made clear throughout all the documentation.
“It is evident that there are three clear sections to the building, with the most significant damage in the rearmost section, and that it will be necessary to work from the rear of the site towards the front.”
Ms Brooke says the rearmost section will likely need the most significant clearance/material removal, and it is unlikely there will be much salvageable material in this part.
“However, it is acknowledged that this section will need to be fully cleared and made safe to enable further investigation further into the building,” she says.
“It is recommended therefore that the application and works be considered as a three-phase approach, with an iterative approach being taken in respect of the latter two phases.”
The council’s suggested plan is:
The rearmost section will be Phase 1, and the clearance will enable an informed decision to be made about the scope and extent of demotion works in the middle section (Phase 2.
And then, finally the extent of demolition, retention, and repair (where practicable) of the front section and façade (Phase 3).
“The submitted documents should all align with this phasing,” says the development officer.
“The demolition method statement as submitted, whilst perfectly appropriate as a matter of principle about how one should go about demolishing a building, needs the input of your structural engineer and conservationist so that it brings together these three elements.
“At present the demolition statement is at odds with the content of the other documents.
“The method statement (and associated drawings) will need to clearly outline the phased demolition/retention/repair (as appropriate) of each section of the building, with details of how any usable material will be salvaged and stored to eventually be reinstated.”
She says that should the applications be approved; they will likely include conditions for further information and reporting (including for example updated structural reports and method statements) to be submitted and approved before the next phase of dismantling can commence.
Fenland Council and the heritage consultees, she says, will wish to retain some semblance of control over the process as new information comes to light as the works progress.
Once the council has revised documents, there will a further consultation prior to a decision being made.
Cllr Dee Laws, Fenland’s portfolio holder for planning, said: “Our residents can be assured that we understand how important this issue is to them and that we’re doing everything possible to support the restoration of this building.”
Sheila Stones, Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas for Historic England, says the building is listed at grade II in recognition of its special architectural and historic interest.
Historic England is concerned, too, about the effectiveness of the façade retention scaffold “which does not appear to be sufficiently substantial”.
She said: “Historic England have serious concerns regarding the application on heritage grounds.”
Listing the features that the owners say should be retained during demolition, Ms Stones says that whilst Historic England agree these features are important “we are of the view that the building’s significance is not restricted to these features only, together with its front elevation.
“We strongly urge your authority to ensure that you are certain of what the outcome will be if this initial phase is carried out and there is then a significant delay before further works commence.”
She said she visited the site on June 22 with Historic England’s structural engineer.
“His assessment regarding the current condition of the building, in light of the devastating fire damage that occurred in April 2022, is provided below,” she said.
Damage caused ‘widespread’
1: The damage caused by the 2022 fire is widespread and has potentially adversely affected a high proportion of the timber structural members.
Those timbers that were not burnt/excessively charred by the fire will have deteriorated by being exposed to rainwater/damp conditions over the last 14 months.
2: The masonry to the front elevation appears, from what can be seen from street level, to be in a reasonable condition.
No major fractures and/or bulges are evident, and the façade retention scaffold appears to be doing a reasonably satisfactory job.
3: How much restraint the remaining original structure behind is providing cannot be determined without altering the scaffold system to incorporate access platforms.
4: The rear elevation to the front block appears, from a distance, to be intact. However, there are a good number of sizeable openings above first floor level with what appear to be timber lintels.
5: The condition of the timbers cannot be confirmed at this time but given the prolonged exposure to rain/damp conditions, it can be expected that bearings will have softened/decayed.
6: Additionally, at first floor level there appears to be a large-span timber beam supporting the masonry above. This beam appears to be significantly charred to its full length; however, the depth of charring, and hence the beam’s residual section, is not known.
7: The structures to the rear of the site are in a similarly poor condition. Roof structures have completely been destroyed and the site covered in debris.
The most likely sequence of work would be to demolish unsafe structures to the rear of the site to allow debris clearance to commence.
8: Access through the front elevation is likely to be precluded due to concerns relating to the integrity of the suspended floor over the basement.
Close supervision will be needed
Localised clearance to the rear would then allow further inspections and assessments by the professional team on the scope of further works.
9: This does however require close supervision by the Local Authority to ensure they are content with the extents of demolition.
An agreed level of recording would also need to be in place prior to any works commencing.
10: Any commentary/assessment on the front elevation (or other sections to remain) is not currently included.
Some further preliminary assessment of the significant frontage and its potential for retention should therefore be undertaken.
Together with options for altering the façade retention scaffold to provide a greater degree of restraint and access to allow the potential removal of the floors etc behind.
11: The design of this façade retention scaffold must consider the presence of the basement/cellar and the effects of any surcharging of the ground adjacent to this from any kentledge required.
12: The local authority need to be confident in knowing what will remain of the building once this stage of works has been completed.
‘Not sufficiently clear in scoop’
This should include any temporary weatherproofing to key retained elements, storage of materials, recording of building details etc all to allow the subsequent reconstruction of the building.
The council’s conservation officer has also produced a report which notes that there is “a strong feeling that the application is not sufficiently clear in its scope and intentions to meet the requirements of national legislation and policy regarding the safeguarding of listed buildings and conservation areas.
“It is therefore at odds with the obligations clearly set out in national legislation for which the LPA (local planning authority) are bound by.
“It should be made clear that the LPA are keen to see this application and a forward plan agreed as soon as possible owing to the disruption to the high street as well as the continuing decay of any salvageable materials whilst these elements continue to be exposed to the elements.”
An application to demolish what is left of 5 Market Place Wisbech is before Fenland District Council.
Site owners of Cashino
The owners are Indylby Investments and Biscuit Investments and the Lincoln based company has prepared a comprehensive package of proposals.
Under the heading of ‘possible items for recovery during clearance’ is the report sets out the following:
Known to have survived:
- Two cast iron fireplaces in the second and third floor level rear rooms (in reasonable condition):
- An iron pattress plate visible on the rear wall of the front structure (in good condition):
- The brass “PIANOES” plinth cap by the front entrance (in quite poor condition):
- Decorative 19th century shop front fittings include pierced iron work (in reasonable condition):
- The sole surviving 16-pane sash window frame at the 2nd floor front (condition unknown):
- The “good Adam style chimney piece” in the 2nd floor front room (condition unknown):
Fire crews from Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire tackled the blaze at Market Place which housed a gaming centre, Cashino, in Wisbech.
The fire broke out at around 6.15pm on April 22.
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