Councillors have been asked to defer again a planned decision on the future of one of Banbury’s last links to the age of steam.
Banbury Civic Society (BCS) has intervened at the last moment to ask Cherwell District Council to examine its planning officer’s recommendation to approve a plan to demolish the old Steam Factory in Canal Lane on the grounds the new plan goes completely against the council’s own policy for removing industry as part of the canalside regeneration.
Swan Directors SIPP wants to replace the historic building with six industrial units. The matter is due for final decision on Thursday.
Rob Kinchin-Smith, chair of BCS, said: “The planned units are, to all intents and purposes, six industrial units - tall buildings with five-metre high lorry doors and minimal windows, with a large open space, a very small office and toilet.
“They are thus contrary to Cherwell’s planning policy for the canalside area, which aspires to relocate existing industrial uses away from the area.”
The Swan Directors’ plan was opposed by several groups including Historic England (English Heritage), the Victorian Society, the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, the Association for Industrial Archaeology, the European Route of Industrial Heritage, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Visit Banbury and Cherwell’s conservation officer.
Mr Kinchin-Smith said the council attempted to break the deadlock by asking its estates department to judge whether the industrial units could be incorporated into the existing historic building.
“The department took as its starting point a ‘theoretical tenant requirement’ for tall buildings with high lorry doors. They concluded removal and raising of the roof, insertion of five-metre high doors and new windows would leave so little of the historic fabric that it would not be a worthwhile exercise,” said Mr Kinchin-Smith.
The findings were accepted by Historic England which finally removed its objection.
But BCS said passing the scheme would send out the wrong signal.
“If this is approved it will send out a clear message that if you neglect a historic building for long enough, then propose ‘theoretical tenant requirements’ that are incompatible with its historic fabric, you will get consent for its demolition,” said Mr Kinchin-Smith.
“The steam factory is the last substantive reminder of the town’s once internationally significant Victorian agricultural engineering industry.”
The local listing describes the 150-year-old brick-built factory as ‘the best-preserved surviving monument to Banbury’s once prolific engineering industry’. It employed 200 workers by the early 1870s, producing traction engines, threshing machinery, elevators and steam cultivation machinery.
Planning officers are recommending approval of the Swan scheme with a number of conditions including preservation of the north wall to demonstrate the site’s historic significance and flood mitigation measures.
A 2013 application for consent to demolish the building was turned down by Cherwell.
The building was expressly included within the Oxford Canal Conservation Area when it was designated two years ago because specialist consultants employed by the council, the council itself and the wider public who were consulted agreed that, even in its present dilapidated condition, the building contributed positively to the character and appearance of the Oxford Canal corridor.