Proposal to demolish Chichester house 'fire damaged beyond repair' is rejected

Fire at Walnut Tree Cottage in October, 2016
Fire at Walnut Tree Cottage in October, 2016

The proposed demolition of a 'designated heritage asset' in Boxgrove has been rejected by the district council due to the 'unjustified harm' it would cause to the area.

Mark Sawyer, owner of Walnut Tree Cottage, requested the demolition of the building in Marsh Lane, Crockerhill, after a 'catastrophic' fire in 2016 left the home 'beyond repair'.

Walnut Tree Cottage pictured a year before the fire

Walnut Tree Cottage pictured a year before the fire

The intention, as per the heritage statement commissioned by Mr Sawyer, was to apply for a replacement dwelling that 'takes account of the heritage value of the area and role within the setting of a number of listed buildings'.

The heritage statement, produced by Murphy Associates, noted that as the building was 'so severely damaged and beyond reasonable repair', the only 'viable option' was to remove it completely.

It added: "The roof structure, thatch roof and first floor were completely destroyed. Many of the original timber rafters and the first floor joists had imploded into the ground floor, leaving only the walls and chimney stack at the northern end standing. The ground floor was damaged by the collapsed structure.

"In tackling the blaze, a substantial volume of water caused further loss of historic fabric, leaving only the shell of the building perilously standing. All of the family's effects were destroyed, including photographers and documents relating to the house.

Fire at Walnut Tree Cottage in October, 2016

Fire at Walnut Tree Cottage in October, 2016

"Whilst elements of the first floor walling remain standing, it is unlikely that there is any retained structural integrity of the building facades and as such recommendation has been made to demolish the building on the basis that it is structurally impaired."

The applicant proposed the 'total removal' of the building, as 'very little can be salvaged'. It added: "The size of the building cannot be accurately measured due to the fire damage."

Before a final decision was made by the district council, Historic England suggested that the 'best course of action' would be for the current application to be withdrawn and for the applicant to 'pursue an application for delisting'.

However, no such action was taken in time and the application was refused after 'no overriding public benefit' was established.

Outlining the grounds for the refusal in its decision notice, Chichester District Council said: "The proposed demolition of the grade II listed building would result in the total loss of a designated heritage asset without justification to demonstrate that the total loss of significance would be necessary to achieve any substantial public benefits that would outweigh the loss.

"Therefore, the works would result in substantial and unjustified harm to the heritage asset."

In an email to the applicant, prior to the decision notice, a district council planning officer outlined 'significant concerns' with this case.

It added: "There is no substantive evidence that the building cannot be repaired and restored alongside the rebuild of certain elements.

"Historic England advise that; ‘Experience shows that special interest may remain even when considerable damage has been done to the fabric, both by fire and by the use of water to put the fire out’."