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Demolition delayed as Hull’s Three Ships mural gets Grade II listing

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A celebrated post-war mural threatened with demolition has been thrown a last-minute reprieve after winning Grade II listing on appeal

The 1963 Three Ships mosaic by artist Alan Boyson on the post-war BHS/Co-op building in central Hull looked set to be destroyed after the council said it had found ‘dangerously high’ levels of asbestos within the structure.

Hull City Council, which is behind a £120 million redevelopment of the site, had claimed health and safety legislation would not allow the mural to be separated from the building before it was bulldozed.

Under plans by AFL Architects approved in April, the giant 20 x 20m artwork was supposed to be dismantled and preserved. However, the council subsequently said that, due to due to asbestos in core structure of the building, including the beams, blocks and cement attached to the 4,224 panel mosaic, it would have to be demolished ‘imminently’.

The decision prompted a backlash from heritage campaigners and the public. Comedian Al Murray and TV presenter Kevin McCloud were among more than 7,000 people to sign a petition calling for the mural to be saved.

The government has now given the mural listed status on appeal, after an initial application for listing by The Twentieth Century Society was turned down by Historic England.

Campaigning group Save Hull’s BHS/Co-op Murals said: ‘Hull City Council will now have to apply for listed building consent before any work can be undertaken on the mural.

‘We have no doubt that the council will […] balance their responsibilities towards public safety with the opportunity that listing gives to re-examine and investigate all possible routes to preserving the mural in situ.’

It added: ‘We have had dialogue with independent heritage experts, who have suggested that, with more time, demolition of the mural is not necessarily the only route.’

Twentieth Century Society caseworker Grace Etherington said: ‘We were doubtful that demolition of the mural was the only option, particularly as asbestos is so well understood and its removal is commonplace nowadays. We hope the decision provokes a change of heart from the council.’

In a statement the council said its plans for the development remained ‘unchanged’ but did not explicitly say it was still pursuing demolition.

‘We will follow the relevant national procedures, which are required in order to address a listed structure, including any planning processes and consents,’ it said.

‘We have been actively engaged with Heritage England throughout the process and will continue to do so. The council is taking the necessary steps to ensure the site remains safe and secure and will pursue the relevant application swiftly.’

Although AFL Architects won planning permission for the development proposal – for a mixed-use scheme including an ice rink and car park – the practice was later replaced on the project by FaulknerBrown when main contractor Vinci was appointed in September.

FaulknerBrown is currently producing new visuals of the scheme, in which the mural of the three ships is replaced by a version of it projected onto or created out of glass. 

The development, named Albion Square, will include 278 homes and 10 shops covering 17,750m² when it is finished in 2023. It will also feature 832m² of office space, alongside the 612-space multistorey car park and ice arena.

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