A leading architect in the UK city of Derby is leading a campaign to stop his local council from demolishing an iconic local retail landmark.

Derek Latham, who is also chair of both Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust and the Derwent Valley Trust, is trying to stop an application by Derby City Council to demolish the former Debenhams building in Victoria Street.

A letter of objection has also been submitted to the council by Derby Civic Society, which aims to promote high standards of planning in the city.

In the 1960s, the store known then as Ranby’s, was a popular destination for shoppers and brought prosperity to a thriving area of Derby. Debenhams took over in the 1970s and  moved from the site in 2007, leaving a gaping hole in trade in the surrounding streets. Now the city council wants to demolish the building ahead of redeveloping the Becketwell area.

In an interview with the Derby Telegraph, Mr Latham has said he is keen to see the redevelopment of the area around the former store, including Duckworth Square, but he added: “I don’t accept we have to lose everything to make progress. It’s not the whole store I think should be kept but that flowing curvaceous façade, built in 1960 to a design inspired by the Festival of Britain architecture of the previous decade by Evans Cartwright and Woollatt.

“It may not be a world class example of the genre, but it’s arguably the best example remaining in Derby – hence being locally listed. But more than just its style, it is its townscape coherence, linking the Wardwick with the corner of Green Lane, whilst harmoniously incorporating the rebuilt, ‘Expresso machine style’ United Reformed Chapel, which is its cause célèbre.

“It gracefully counterbalances, but does not dominate the magnificent listed former Atheneum Club, Tramway offices and Post Office on the opposite side of the street.”

Mr Latham said that its demolition which, if approved could be completed as early as the end of June, “would harm the street scene” and “leave a vista of dereliction up to Macklin Street”.

He said: “Residents of Derby will be familiar with previous occasions when premature demolition has left a site vacant for years, despite good intent, detracting from the attractiveness of the city centre.

Mr Latham said that its demolition which, if approved could be completed as early as the end of June, “would harm the street scene” and “leave a vista of dereliction”.

He said: “Residents of Derby will be familiar with previous occasions when premature demolition has left a site vacant for years, despite good intent, detracting from the attractiveness of the city centre.

“But, until we see an acceptable proposal for the whole site, ready and committed to proceed, then don’t ’throw the baby out with the bath water’. If the preferred developer’s interest, or their scheme, were to fail to proceed, the city centre would be left with an even larger and more visible eyesore than it has now, as happened in Corporation Street some thirty years ago.

“The city council’s planning committee needs to be sure the proposed redevelopment is of a sustainably high quality of design and use, with contracts signed for its erection before accepting demolition of the street scene, and hopefully the incorporation of the Ranby façade into the development.

“That way we will retain the familiar face of the old, whilst benefiting from the rejuvenation provided by the new.”

City planners say that only by demolishing the former Debenhams store can the area behind it be opened up to allow redevelopment. The costs for the demolition and land purchase are being funded by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) D2N2. It has invested £8.1million into the Becketwell regeneration as part of work to promote economic growth in the region.

Council leader Councillor Chris Poulter said: “The demolition of the former Debenhams store will create a new gateway to Becketwell, and is a major step in delivering regeneration of the area.”

Although details of what will happen after the store is demolished have not been released, proposals already mooted include constructing 200 apartments over 16 floors along with “Grade A” office space.

Derby Civic Society has said it wants to register its objection “in the strongest terms”. Its grounds for objection are those identified by Mr Latham and include the fact that the building is locally listed, “added specifically because with its traditional brick facing, its restrained height and curving façade, adding considerably to the street scene, and is an excellent example of the better sort of modernist building of the late 1950s”.

The store was built in 1960-62 for Ranby’s, as a replacement for a number of earlier buildings on the site into which the firm had expanded in the early 20th century, and was designed to match the curvature of the street.

Just over 12 months ago. the civic society revealed a £150 million plan to transform the Becketwell area, involving architectural experts and the Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust and to be called the Joseph Wright Cultural Quarter.

This would include a new concert hall, restoration of the Hippodrome Theatre, a four-star-plus hotel, amphitheatre, walks, shops and food outlets developed on the site occupied by the former Debenhams store and the vacant plot that was Duckworth Square. But nothing further has happened about the proposal despite the former city Labour ruling group being briefed on it.

The planning application for demolition is due to be heard by the committee in the next eight to 12 weeks.

Story courtesy of Derby Telegraph

https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk