Demolition of 11 and 12 High Street, Wisbech, 'regrettable' but now all agree retention not an option as council gives green light for removal

PUBLISHED: 17:59 14 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:59 14 October 2019

Fenland District Council has agreed to the demolition of 11-12 High Street, Wisbech; 15 flats and a shop on the ground floor most likely to be built there. Picture; ARCHANT

Fenland District Council has agreed to the demolition of 11-12 High Street, Wisbech; 15 flats and a shop on the ground floor most likely to be built there. Picture; ARCHANT

Archant

Conservationists have thrown in the towel and agreed with Fenland District Council that two 18th century Wisbech shops - one listed in 1976 and the other in 1983 - can be demolished.

Historic England (formerly English Heritage) warned 13 years ago that the buildings at 11 and 12 High Street were at risk, with the roof of one collapsed.

Summing up the consultation with preservation groups, the council's conservation officer concluded that whilst it was "regrettable", retention of both buildings "cannot be warranted and therefore total demolition is acceptable".

In their hey day both shops were historically four storey, two bay buildings with basements in the heart of the town but in recent years veered towards an "advanced state of collapse".

The site will be cleared and with the likelihood of a ground floor retail unit be built with up to 15 flats occupying what will become a five-storey mixed use building.

Bowing to pressure from the county council archaeologist, Fenland Council is being invited to insist that a programme of "historic building recording" be implemented to ensure the site's history is able to be seen in years to come.

Council officers have pointed out how "multiple protracted attempts" have been made with previous owners of the properties to ensure their long term viability but without success.

What has partially helped save the day for Fenland is a Heritage Lottery funded townscape heritage project that began in 2016 that awarded nearly £2m towards regeneration.

Dilapidated and vacant buildings are being refurbished and 11 and 12 High Street became a key focus of this project,

Among those agreeing to the demolition of 11 and 12 High Street are the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings who said that although they deeply regretted their passing, "they are now beyond the point of worthwhile repair".

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Fenland Council stepped in earlier this year to buy the derelict buildings but they are now likely to be sold to private developers Whitfield Property Investments Ltd.

Council officers summed up their view in a report considered by councillors in which they noted that every effort over 20 years to encourage previous owners had failed.

The council is also going ahead with demolition works to the rear of 24 High Street that will allow for re-development of the site known as The Gap.

Before demolition commences, the council is required to secure agreement from all neighbouring properties affected by the removal of the structure and to undertake further ecological assessments to ensure that any potential wildlife is not adversely impacted by the works.

It is anticipated that demolition will be complete by the end of the year.

A council spokesman said: "We have also agreed to fund a further four properties to deliver significant improvement work and are awaiting the start date from the owners. "The agreed schemes will include reinstatement of traditional shop fronts, redecoration of others, repair and renovation of brickwork and conversion of the upper floors to residential use.

"These works will make a huge impact, with the upper floors of one property being brought back into use after remaining vacant for over 30 years. A number of other properties are also lined up to benefit from a grant once the owners have secured quotations and submitted their project applications."

Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council's portfolio holder for social mobility and heritage, said: "It is great to see that planning approval has been granted for works to 11 and 12 High Street as it brings us another step closer to making visible improvements to a building in much need of repair. "We are continuing to work very hard behind the scenes to get the relevant approvals in place needed to deliver the wide package of improvements that will transform the High Street."

For more information on the Wisbech High Street project, visit www.highstreetwisbech.org.uk or email wisbechhighstreetpro@fenland.gov.uk

Plans for 11 and 12 High Street are available to view on the council's planning portal: www.fenland.gov.uk/publicaccess

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