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Bulldozers move in on Brynmawr

Docomomo and the Prince's Foundation have pleaded with Wales' first minister Rhodri Morgan to order a halt on the demolition of the Grade II*listed Brynmawr Rubber Factory after bulldozers unexpectedly began razing the building last week.

They say that tearing down Wales' best twentieth century building must stop since the developer has breached planning rules by not having a viable scheme ready to go in the factory's place.

Docomomo convenor Judi Loach has written to Morgan to ask for an injunction to stop developer Brunswick from demolishing what was the first post-war listed building in England and Wales and one of the few buildings of international quality in the Principality. And CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments has brought the matter to the attention of local authority Blaenau Gwent, stressing the building's 'high value to post-war architecture'.

But last week demolition of listed elements of the building began, towards a completion next month. Conservationists are furious that it has been made possible by Morgan's Welsh Assembly, which sanctioned a Welsh Development Agency grant of £6.3 million for the demolition project.

'It's very suspicious, ' said Loach. 'And if you can pull Brynmawr down, nothing is safe.'

A Docomomo investigation revealed that although the developer plans to build a supermarket on the site to designs by Cardiff-based practice Powell Dobson Partnership, there is no viable end-user in place. And Loach argues that this contravenes one of only two conditions in the permission ordered by Blaenau Gwent in 1996.

'No demolition shall take place until such time as the local planning authority has confirmed in writing that it is satisfied that a contract for works, comprising an integral part of a phased development of the site and surrounding land, has been entered into by the developer, ' the condition read.

Blaenau Gwent gave the permission in the light of a supermarket's capacity to bring jobs to the area. But Loach is convinced that even on that score the scheme - if and when it appears - will instead imperil existing local retail jobs.

London architect Victoria Perry has written a book on the factory and was on the site on Wednesday last week with a BBC film crew, making a documentary to be screened on the subject next month. 'It's a scandal and I think it's desperately sad, ' she told the AJ. 'They'll lose their best building of the twentieth century. Councillors have always viewed it as a problem and you couldn't get a greater contrast to the neighbouring authority.' Tofaen council nearby has just had the eighteenth century Blaenafon ironworks declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fred Taggart, director of the Prince's Foundation's regeneration through heritage wing, wrote to the assembly a fortnight ago advising Morgan that the destruction of the building would be 'a huge loss' and with an offer to head a campaign to re-work the factory, but Morgan has ignored the entreaties.

Blaenau Gwent development control head Steve Smith said he was unaware of listed elements having been demolished but that enforcement action may be taken - if it was considered 'expedient'. Smith admitted that the developer does not even have to submit a detailed plans for a new building for the site until 2003 - the council granted the developer an extension earlier this year.

The dilapidated factory, designed by Architects Co-Partnership, sits on a site owned by Maincourse in Gwent and was branded a 'masterpiece' by the Twentieth Century Society.

The society's Alan Powers said the building could easily be refurbished with European grants and the £6.3 million channelled its way - people would flock to visit the building even as a 'shell'.He was unsure about its chances of survival, but revealed one glimmer of hope - 'people of some weight in Wales' were in talks with Morgan on the issue last Thursday. The AJ has learned that this meeting involved the Archbishop of Wales, who, like Morgan, is one of the members on the newly formed Bevan Foundation, a cross-party thinktank which has been formed to look at regeneration issues in the country.

The Brynmawr saga bears a faint echo of the famous erasure of another rubber factory - the Firestone Tyre and Rubber company's premises on London's Great West Road. The building was demolished on the eve of its listing in 1980.

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