The Ifton Heath Primary School building in St Martin’s – which Shropshire Council has recognised as a non-designated heritage asset – will be bulldozed by the authority’s own housing company, Cornovii Developments Ltd.
Despite pleas from villagers and the council’s conservation team for the building to be retained as part of the development, the firm said it would mean a reduction in the total number of homes on the site which would ultimately render the scheme unviable.
Approving the plans for 35 houses to be built on the site, the council’s northern planning committee agreed with the recommendation of officers that the benefits of the development in meeting local housing needs outweighed the loss of the heritage asset.
Councillor Steve Davenport, who represents St Martin’s and is a former governor of the school, spoke at the meeting on Tuesday against the application.
He said previous plans had been drawn up for fewer houses and the conversion of the school building, which were supported by the villagers and the parish council – “and then Cornovii came along and that all went out of the window”.
Councillor Davenport said: “While we agree with the housing, we disagree with the demolition of the old school and we feel it should have been converted. It would not have been that difficult and [the homes] would have been well sought-after.
“There have been quite a few builders that have been interested in the site that would retain the old school and find it profitable.”
Councillor David Vasmer said: “I think the key issue is whether we agree that the demolition of the school building is acceptable, given the current policies of the council, and I don’t think that it is acceptable.”
Councillor Vasmer said the developer had “brushed away” the possibility of converting the school building rather than investigating it properly.
He added: “It’s not our job to assess whether a developer is going to make a profit on a particular application, it’s our job to assess whether it’s right and proper as regards the policies of this council – and I don’t think that this application is.”
Councillor Mike Isherwood said it was disappointing to see a council-owned company putting profit ahead of the local opposition to the loss of the school building.
He said: “Rightly or wrongly, the public do see Cornovii as Shropshire Council.
“I know it’s a private company but if Cornovii, being owned by Shropshire Council, isn’t prepared to retain and redevelop buildings that the community is very sentimentally attached to, then who is?
“Surely they should be responding to local opinion on matters like this and not just acting like any other developer might in terms of just sheer maximisation of profit.”
However some councillors said the demolition of the derelict school would not be a huge loss to the village, and was justifiable if it would allow much-needed homes to be built.
Councillor Joyce Barrow said replacing the old building with new-build homes would “tidy up the street scene” of Overton Road, with Councillor Geoff Elner adding: “For me, a redundant school sitting there deteriorating isn’t particularly worth much when you look at the need for housing.”
Councillor Vince Hunt said the school was “not the prettiest building” and that he supported the prospect of replacing it with “good-quality homes”.
The committee approved the application by five votes to four.
Councillor Ted Clarke abstained from the vote, saying putting financial viability over a heritage asset would set a “worrying” precedent.