Cornovii Developments Ltd – Shropshire Council’s house building company – wants to bulldoze Ifton Heath Primary School in St Martin’s in order to develop the site, and the authority’s northern planning committee will next week decide whether to grant approval for the scheme.
The proposals first went before the committee in March, when officers had recommended refusal, saying the school was a non-designated heritage asset and should not be demolished.
The developer had claimed the retention of the school building would lead to a reduction in the total number of properties on the site which would ultimately render the scheme unviable.
Officers further said the site was outside the village’s development boundary, and although it was allocated for housing in the council’s new local plan, they said the draft document could not yet be afforded significant weight.
Further concerns were also raised over the visual impact which would be caused by a proposed acoustic fence.
But at the meeting, planning officers told the committee that Cornovii had requested a deferral in order to look again at the possibility of converting rather than knocking down the school, and to address the other recommended reasons for refusal.
A new report to the committee, published ahead of next week’s meeting, reveals the school is still earmarked for demolition.
The move has been criticised by the council’s conservation team, which said the scheme still “does not comply” with planning policies.
Conservation officers said: “Whilst some improvement has been made with regard to the orientation of the proposed dwellings on the frontage we still have concerns regarding the lack of justification provided which clearly evidences that demolition is the only option for the identified buildings.”
Despite this planning officers now judge the proposals to be acceptable overall, given the changes made and the fact that the emerging local plan – including the proposed allocation of the site for housing – has now been signed off by councillors to go for government examination.
The report by Ian Kilby, head of planning, says: “The applicant has considered further the potential for the conversion of the school and considers that this would be likely to require a number of design changes that could negatively impact the setting and character of the building including the replacement of windows and, should the gardens be positioned to Overton Road, the negative impact of acoustic fencing on both the street scene and the building.
“The applicant undertook a financial viability appraisal of the scheme [which] confirmed that the conversion option delivered a profit of 8.46 per cent against a target of 15 to 20 per cent which government considers a suitable return for developers.”
The report says Cornovii would support a “photographic record or assessment of the building prior to demolition and on-site interpretation” if required.
It adds: “Furthermore, the scheme has been redesigned in consultation with colleagues from regulatory services so as to remove the requirement for an acoustic fence to the Overton Road frontage which has significant benefits in urban design terms as the buildings and landscape design is able to contribute far more positively to the public realm.
"On balance, it is considered that having regard to the changing status of the local plan and the design amendments secured providing quality designed housing, meeting local need will outweigh the loss of the non-designated heritage asset.”
The planning committee will decide the application at a meeting next Tuesday, August 3.