Fears for historic vicarage council fought to save

Croylands, former vicarage under threat in Ely

On the left is how its demolition and replacement with nine flats might look. The scheme was rejected for Croylands (right) a former Victorian vicarage on Cambridge Road, Ely - Credit: Archant/James bowman

Sir Jim Paice once branded McCarthy & Stone’s proposed conversion of a Victorian vicarage into 20 flats as “more appropriate for an industrial estate than in one of Ely’s best residential areas”. 

That was eight years ago and in the intervening years Croylands,  at 30 Cambridge Road, has remained unaltered and empty.  

Councillors rejected the McCarthy & Stone plans and they went elsewhere, found a site in Lisle Lane, and opened their block of retirement flats in 2018.  

Local councillor and neighbour Bill Hunt waged a residents’ campaign to halt the Croylands development, describing it as “as a cynical attempt at a smash and grab raid. 

“If successful it will extract the maximum amount of profit for the applicants and their shareholders and inflict extensive damage on many fronts to the city and people of Ely”. 

Today Croylands is boarded up amid growing concerns that if allowed to deteriorates much further, demolition, once feared and fought against, might remain the only viable solution.  

Croylands, Ely

Croylands as it is today: falling into disrepair. All plans for it have been rejected by East Cambs Council - Credit: James Bowman

Former mayor and local councillor Mike Rouse was among many who voiced opposition to the original proposals.  

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“I have consistently opposed this money-grabbing overdevelopment,” he said of the McCarthy and Stone when it went to a final planning committee in late 2013 after revisions had been made. 

“There hasn’t been a significant change in this scheme; it is still simply too large and I think it should have been thrown out from day one.” 

Croylands, Ely

This was as many will remember Croylands, then a day care centre, in Cambridge Road, Ely, when it was owned by the county council - Credit: Archant

After more than two years of applications, reports and re-submissions, councillors voted by a majority of eight votes to four to refuse McCarthy & Stone’s application. 

Ironically and five years later, as the Mayor of Ely, Cllr Rouse officially opened the Lisle scheme built by McCarthy and Stone. He thanked the company for “boosting the choice for older people in Ely and beyond”. 

Last week Cllr Rouse reflected through a social post about a more recent application to rebuild the frontage of Croylands and extend it for apartments. 

Croylands design plans

A scheme a few years back to demolish Croylands and replace with flats was rejected. This was an architect's impression put forward for 30 Cambridge Road, Ely. - Credit: ECDC

"The building is in a poor state and will obviously deteriorate further like this,” he wrote. “I doubt now whether it can be saved.” 

In 2019 a bid to demolish the former county council care centre and replace with nine flats was also rejected by East Cambs District Council.  

Bought at auction for £600,000 by a Stretham farming family, the proposals were said to have won support from neighbours at two consultation meetings. 

But the council decided “makes a valuable contribution to the historical and architectural significance of the area and its loss would lead to a serious level of harm to the conservation area”. 

Croylands, Ely

From the original sketches produced by McCarthy & Stone for Croylands at Cambridge Road, Ely. The company gave up in the end and built elsewhere. - Credit: McCarthy & Stone

The decision was appealed but the inspector upheld the council’s verdict.  

“The proposal would involve the complete demolition of No 30 and this would result in a complete loss of its significance,” Graham Chamberlain, the planning inspector, ruled. 

“The impact of the appeal scheme on the building, which is a non-designated heritage asset, would be severe.” 

He said 30 Cambridge Road “is a grand and imposing structure set in generous grounds” on the periphery of the city, 

"The building is generally well preserved but has been unused for a few years and has a tired appearance. 

“It has also been subject to some unsympathetic alterations such as the insertion of UPVc windows in the rear elevation and ad hoc repairs.  

“Internally the floor plan has been much altered to accommodate its previous use as an office, but several features such as fireplaces and staircases are still evident.” 

Mr Chamberlain also noted Croylands remained on the council’s Buildings of Local Interest Register 2017 as a good example of the Queen Anne Revival style and was designed by William Timbrell Price.  

“I have no reason to doubt this analysis,” he said.  

He said Croylands was “a rare architectural addition in the context of Ely regardless of who designed it.  

“Moreover, the building has a historical significance, being originally designed as a vicarage associated with Holy Trinity Church.  

“In the mid-20th Century, it performed a civic role as an orphanage, a home for the blind and then a centre for Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust.  

“Accordingly, in a local context, the building has a high level of architectural and historic significance." 

There have been no recent plans for Croylands submitted to the council.