Selwyn Primary School in Highams Park: now heritage experts SAVE makes the case for a re-think

A previous post (see link below) raises concerns about LBWF’s plans to rebuild Selwyn Primary School in Highams Park.

Now SAVE Britain’s Heritage (‘a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners’ which aims to provide ‘a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment’) has entered the fray, and written to LBWF with a forceful and considered case for a re-think.

The accompanying press release is as follows:

‘SAVE…[objects] to the demolition of a charming Edwardian primary school in Waltham Forest, for replacement with a new school building…

Built in 1904 to the designs of H Prosser, the architect to Walthamstow Education Committee, Selwyn Primary School is a handsome group of buildings, each with considerable architectural merit. The buildings appear to be in good condition, and we have seen no evidence to indicate they cannot be maintained and adapted for continued use.

In contrast, the proposed replacement is stark and out of keeping with the surrounding area, which is predominantly Victorian and Edwardian in character with brick and stone being the prevailing building materials.

Marcus Binney, Executive President of SAVE said: “It is heartbreaking to face a demolition proposal for such a delightful school building which has been well looked after and retains its original attractive detail and proportions. It is built of good materials and would clearly outlast any replacement by many years.

The Edwardian era was a golden age of good architecture and craftsmanship and the loss of this school will be tragedy”’.

And here is the letter in full:

4 May 2016

Dear planning officer,

Planning Application ID: 153749 – Selwyn Primary School, 102 Cavendish Road, Chingford, London, E4 9NG – Demolition of existing buildings and construction of a two storey building to provide a new primary school. Provision of outdoor play facilities, access works, car parking and landscaping

SAVE Britain’s Heritage writes to object in the strongest possible terms to this application, which proposes the demolition of Selwyn Primary School.

Selwyn Primary School is a particularly handsome group of buildings dating from 1904 by H Prosser, architect to Walthamstow Education Committee. Prosser designed all three blocks, originally separate infants and juniors, in a festive Queen Anne style; symmetrical, with curly gables, octagonal cupolas, and stone dressings. The blocks are subtly different but are very much in the same style, and appear largely unaltered from their original construction. The school merits mention in Pevsner (London 5: East), and is described as ‘a handsome group, all very similar, spaciously set out.’

Prosser was also responsible for several other school buildings in the area, including Barrett Road (1905), Mission Grove (1906) and Winns Avenue (1907), each in a similar style, and all currently still in use as schools. Selwyn Primary School appears to be the most architecturally exuberant of Prosser’s school designs.

Despite not being listed or in a Conservation Area, the buildings have clear architectural and historic interest, and are worthy of retention and reuse. As an undesignated heritage asset paragraph 135 of the NPPF applies:

The effect of an application on the significance of a non designated heritage asset should be taken into account in determining the application. In weighing applications that affect directly or indirectly non designated heritage assets, a balanced judgement will be required having regard to the scale of any harm or loss and the significance of the heritage asset.

The current application is a result of Selwyn Primary School being chosen to benefit from the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), which seeks to address schools most in need of urgent repair, either through rebuilding or renovation. We have seen no evidence to suggest that the school cannot be repaired and renovated as part of the PSBP programme.

Nor do we find the justification for demolition convincing. The buildings appear to be in a good condition and are currently being used successfully for their original purpose (as are Prosser’s other school buildings). Despite claims in the planning statement that they are ‘deemed to be in such dire need of urgent repair’, there are no structural or condition surveys supporting this, and the buildings’ ongoing use suggests this point is being overstated.

We also consider the design of the proposed building to be harmful to its surroundings. The streets around Selwyn Primary School are predominantly made up of handsome Victorian and Edwardian residential properties; those on Selwyn Avenue are particularly attractive, with pitched gables and stone window and door surrounds. Together with the existing school buildings it makes for a pleasant streetscape. In contrast, the proposed building is out of character with the surrounding area and pays little consideration to its setting. Materially it ignores the prevailing brick and painted render of the area, and there is no variation to its roofline, which is part of the charm of the existing buildings. In addition, based on feedback from the public consultation exercise, the majority of respondents wish to see the buildings retained and enhanced, as opposed to an entirely new school being built.

Finally, there are a number of issues with the planning application documents. It would appear that no Design and Access statement exists online. This should be addressed as it is a key document in understanding the application. Additionally, the planning statement uploaded is in draft form and is missing its Appendix A – the Heritage Statement.

We therefore strongly object to this application and request that planning permission be refused. A scheme which retains the existing buildings and restores and adapts them for ongoing use would be much more likely to meet with success, and we hope that such an approach can be taken forwards’.

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Selwyn Primary School, Highams Park: demolish in haste, repent at leisure?