Conservationists have called for a rethink of a Pollard Thomas Edwards cinema and restaurant scheme they say would be ‘highly detrimental’ to Basil Spence’s Basildon town centre
The Twentieth Century Society (C20) urged Basildon Borough Council to find an alternative site for the practice’s consented 10-screen multiplex and six food units.
The proposal will see demolition of the four-storey Freedom House and certain shops on East Walk before creation of a five-storey block that will front the Grade II-listed East Square, which is bordered by the 14-storey Grade II-listed Brooke House.
C20 said the plans would cause ‘serious harm’ to the setting of Brooke House, which was designed in the early 1960s by Basildon Development Corporation chief architect Anthony B Davies with Basil Spence as consultant.
The society also objected to the demolition of the parade of shops on East Walk and Freedom House, which it described as a ‘fine example of the Festival of Britain style that flourished in the 1950s’.
Coventry Cathedral designer Basil Spence created the Basildon New Town master plan when it was formed from the four villages of Pitsea, Laindon, Basildon and Vange shortly after the Second World War.
C20 head of casework Clare Price said: ‘There are several alternative sites for this redevelopment which would not cause damage.
‘The empty Post Office building with sorting office behind would allow an almost identical location without the loss of important non-designated heritage assets. The prominent Toys‘R’Us building and car park provide another very credible alternative for a cinema use that is also vacant and will have the additional benefit of revitalising the retail areas of East Walk.
‘There is a clear opportunity here for imaginative refurbishment proposals, not just a short-sighted and overpowering redevelopment, which would destroy what makes this [site] unique. Such a solution would not preclude public realm improvements and access problems being resolved: this can be done while retaining the existing buildings.’
Anthony Hedley, chairman of the council’s Regeneration Committee, said councillors on the Planning Committee had considered the heritage impacts of the cinema scheme in July, alongside the economic and social benefits of the proposals, and given their approval.
Hedley said that no one from C20 attended the Planning Committee meeting, and that nothing had been received from the body since its consultation response. Historic England did not intervene, he added, and there were no appropriate council-owned alternative sites for the scheme.
In a joint statement with Pollard Thomas Edwards, Hedley said: ’This vibrant development will bring more life into the town centre while boosting the local economy and providing new jobs for local people. The scheme has received support from the community, landowners and retailers, who consider It to be important for the longer-term sustainability of the town centre. It’s important that we provide investment to promote mixed use of the town centre and create a much-needed night-time economy.
’The council has worked closely with architects at Pollard Thomas Edwards to ensure the project taps into the cultural heritage of Basildon, with the ambitious design being inspired by the original spirit of the new town identity. The ramp, staircase and bench to the south-west corner of East Square, and the Man Aspires sculpture, are all being retained and refurbished.’