Councillors postpone a decision on the old Banbury steam factory to visit the site themselves

The Victorian steam factory which councillors will visit before deciding whether to allow its demolition
The Victorian steam factory which councillors will visit before deciding whether to allow its demolition

Councillors asked to decide whether Banbury’s last link with its place in the age of steam should be demolished are to visit the site together.

Members of Cherwell District Council’s planning committee voted last Thursday to defer a final decision on the replacement of the Victorian steam factory in Canal Street with industrial units, to allow them to see the old building for themselves.

A steam engine made at the Canal Street steam factory, discovered on a sheep farm in Australia and now up for sale

A steam engine made at the Canal Street steam factory, discovered on a sheep farm in Australia and now up for sale

They had been asked to delay a final decision on demolition of the 150-year-old building by the Banbury Civic Society which intervened at the last moment to urge the council to abide by its canalside regeneration policy to move industry out of the area.

Instead the society has asked the committee to give consent to renovation of the old, brick building and incorporation of industrial use inside it to protect one of the last vestiges of Banbury’s steam-era heritage.

The redevelopment plan, presented by owners Swan Directors SIPP, has been in the planning process for some 18 months.

Company director Martin Phillips said after Thursday’s meeting: “The frustration continues as far the old Burgess site in Canal Street is concerned.

The steam engine discovered in a shed in New South Wales, Australia showing its Banbury makers at the steam factory in Canal Street

The steam engine discovered in a shed in New South Wales, Australia showing its Banbury makers at the steam factory in Canal Street

“CDC did agree that any alternative scheme put forward by Robert Kinchin-Smith (chair of Banbury Civic Society) could not be considered as no planning application has been made or fee paid. The application in front of the planning committee this evening was first lodged and paid for over 18 months ago.

“But for the Civic Society‘s muddying of the waters with half truths and proposals that are uneconomic and for retail units that have no demand, the proposal in front of the council would have been heard and a demand for smaller units in the town would have been met.”

Mr Kinchin-Smith said his group was heartened by councillors’ decision to visit the site.

“Planning policy for the Canalside area is to remove all existing industrial uses over time.

“The argument for industrial units is based on claims over viability and whether the existing historic building can be adapted for reuse.

“Nobody has claimed refurbishment of the steam factory is not financially viable compared to a replacement building.

“The application has been opposed by Historic England (English Heritage), the Victorian Society, the National Traction Engine Trust, the Warwickshire Association for Industrial Archaeology, the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, Visit Banbury and over 50 individuals,” said Mr Kinchin-Smith.

Lead member for planning, Cllr Colin Clarke, said: “This building is a legacy of Banbury’s industrial past, and the council felt it was important to recognise the large volume of feedback we have had to this application by paying a site visit.

“We are eager to make the right decision about a site which needs to be brought back into use, so it was felt prudent to give due consideration to the proposal from Banbury Civic Society, before reaching a decision on the application from Swan Directors SIPP.”

Any successful conversion scheme would need to take account of the risk of flooding and the needs of the wider Canal Conservation Area.

The site visit will be made prior to the next planning meeting on Thursday, June 9.