Shropshire Star

Public gather for meeting over 101 homes plan - threatening Ironbridge's world heritage status

On Saturday, a public meeting was held to talk about the plan to build 101 homes in Coalbrookdale, and the potential threat they pose to the Gorge's world heritage status.

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Shropshire Homes submitted plans to build the homes on the former Coalbrookdale Works on Wellington Road back in 2021. And for a time, the plan looked to be going full steam ahead, with even English Heritage not raising substantial concerns.

But any decision making was brought to a screeching halt when Icomos, a body which makes recommendations to Unesco over world heritage sites, intervened.

In its letter to Telford & Wrekin Council, Icomos said protecting the industrial landscape of the area was "essential" and that "all aspects connected with Abraham Darby and his production processes" should be conserved.

The site.

Peter Marsden, chairman of the Icomos-UK World Heritage Committee warned the "lower reaches of Coalbrookdale will be transformed from an industrial landscape into a dense, high-rise housing estate."

Having dealt with almost three years of delays since that dreaded letter, Shropshire Homes has now asked for the scheme to be determined by a planning inspector on the grounds of 'non-determination' – where an applicant believes a council has taken too long to decide.

On Saturday, in a meeting organised by Telford & Wrekin borough Councillor Carolyn Healy, parish councillor Maureen Bragg and chair of Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site Steering Group, Marion Blockley, around 50 people gathered at the Coalbrookdale Community Centre to make their voices heard.

The meeting was well attended.

And it wasn't that those who gathered were wholly against the plans for new homes. In fact, many argued that something had to be done with the site that had been left vacant since the Aga Foundry closed in 2017.

"It's been a mess for years," one resident said. "It can't just stay empty."

Some residents also spoke of their desire to see their children be able to buy homes in the Gorge - something out of the reach for most young people looking to get on the property ladder.

Councillor Healy, who led the meeting, praised the plans for bringing back the site's two listed buildings into use. But 'density' was the word of the day on Saturday, as residents slammed the plans for being too big for the historic area.

Cllr Carolyn Healy talks at the meeting.

Concerns were not only raised - as could have been expected - about parking and traffic and the impact on local services, but also of the impact it could have on the landscape, potential threat to future archaeological endeavours and the benefits it would bring to the historic gorge.

Potentially the largest impact of all was the threat to its world heritage status.

In 2021, Liverpool's waterfront was stripped of its world heritage status after Unesco said its heritage value had been diminished by new buildings.

"We're not Liverpool," Councillor Healy said. "We're not going to still get visitors coming because we've got world-famous football teams and cathedrals - we've got a bridge.

"Yes, it's very well known, but not many people know about things like the furnace and so on - so I think the fact that we are a world heritage site really does benefit our local community and to lose that will harm our local economy.

"That's our local businesses, our local jobs, the risk is that the Gorge goes into decline. We want to avoid getting to the point where we lose that status and I think we need to make that really clear.

"It just can't be allowed to happen - if there's a risk to that we need to take action now to mitigate that risk, to make changes to this development so that it can go ahead and we're not left with a derelict site and there are homes but we do retain that world heritage status."

A digital view of the plans.

Opinions gathered at the meeting will be taken to a hearing on June 25 between Shropshire Homes and Telford & Wrekin Council, before a planning inspector decides on the plan.

The full planning application is available to view online through the council's planning portal, using reference number: TWC/2021/0356