Broadway Malyan’s plans to demolish and redevelop the Grade II-listed former Birds Eye headquarters (1961), one of the first corporate HQs to be built outside London, look set to be approved
The AJ100 practice unveiled plans for 375 homes plus ground-floor commercial units and car parking on the 6ha Walton Court site in Walton-Upon-Thames, Surrey, in March last year (2017).
According to developers A2 Dominion and Crest Nicholson, retention of the existing building is unviable due to the estimated £40 million cost.
The contentious plans have already been given the green light by Elmbridge Borough Council’s north area planning sub-committee (16 July), with officers recommending approval ahead of a further full planning committee meeting on 30 July.
Historic England, which had originally opposed the development, has since withdrawn its formal objection, although it remains ’unconvinced that the very high tests for total loss of designated heritage […] are conclusively met by the applicant’s latest submission’.
The heritage watchdog said it was ‘ultimately for the council to judge whether an exceptional case for the total loss of significance proposed’ has been made adding that the authority ’must not simply give “careful consideration” to the desirability of avoiding harm, but give that factor “considerable importance and weight” in the balance and satisfy itself that there is a clear and convincing justification for this high level of harm’.
However The Twentieth Century Society is continuing to object in the ’strongest terms’. A ‘dismayed’ spokesperson for the society said: ’We have exhausted all options in our power to fight the loss of this Grade II-listed building and regret that this case is set to become an example of the failure of current planning legislation to protect historic buildings.
‘We have recently celebrated the success of various conservation-focused conversion schemes, such as Ted Cullinan’s Ready Mix Concrete Offices, but sadly the future of 20th century architecture still too often relies on the favourable attitude of building owners and local authorities, as national legislation falls short of providing sufficient protection.’
The spokesperson added: ’The question must be asked whether a Grade II-listed building of an earlier date would be treated with the same disregard, and the society is deeply concerned about the precedent this decision could set.
The conservation campaigners said that, if the plans were approved, the only remaining option would be to ask for a public inquiry – a move which is unlikely given Historic England’s current stance.
Meanwhile the developer maintains there is no economic way the building can realistically be saved. A viability report drawn up for Crest Nicholson/A2 Dominion as part of the planning application has been supported in a separate independent review undertaken by Knight Frank on behalf of Elmbridge Borough Council.
It is understood this Knight Frank report also concluded a retrofit of the existing building, which is clad with a series of asbestos-lined, single-glazed, non-thermally-broken anodised aluminium panels, would not be cost-effective.
In 2009, problems associated with these panels led to a grant of planning permission and listed building consent for their complete removal and replacement.
Birds Eye was one of the first companies to move its offices out of London, bringing all its staff together on the site, close to rail and airport connections.
The frozen food giant employed the firm of John Burnet, Tait and Partners to design the building, which would project Birds Eye’s corporate identity through architecture.
Under the Broadway Malyan proposal, a central ‘jewel’ building with an enclosed formal residential courtyard will be surrounded by brick buildings that will offer an architectural counterpoint to the main building.
In the competition for the scheme, Broadway Malyan beat Scott Brownrigg, HLM and Pollard Thomas Edwards to land the job in 2016.
Birds Eye Foods office building, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: one of the internal courtyards with ornamental pool - picture taken 1963
Source: John Maltby/RIBA Collections