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Calls to end neglect as historic Dereham cottage saved from demolition

PUBLISHED: 14:54 11 July 2014 | UPDATED: 14:55 11 July 2014

Sue Walker White outside the listed building on Church Street in Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Sue Walker White outside the listed building on Church Street in Dereham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Campaigners fighting to save a listed building in Dereham are celebrating news that it has been rescued from the jaws of the demolition diggers - for now.

Church Street cottage, Dereham, August 1937Church Street cottage, Dereham, August 1937

But they are also calling on pub chain JD Wetherspoon, who own the pretty 17th century cottage in the grounds of the Romany Rye in Church Street, to “face up to their responsibilities” and renovate it to secure its long-term future as a heritage asset for the town.

The decision by JD Wetherspoon to apply for planning permission to demolish the majority of the Grade II listed cottage to enlarge its beer garden horrified members of a local history group and the wider community.

They felt it was an “uncreative” use of such an asset and was of more value to Dereham as a landmark and symbol of its history than lost forever to a beer garden.

But Breckland Council’s planning manager Paul Jackson, through the delegated decision process, refused the application without the need for it to go before the planning comittee.

The cottage came into the pub chain’s ownership in 2008 when it bought the former Phoenix Hotel but it has remained empty since and is gradually falling into disrepair with tiles slipping and pigeons taking up residence in the loft.

At the time a spokesman for JD Wetherspoon said repair costs were too high to make it worth renovating but a larger garden was a better commercial opportunity.

Mr Jackson said: “The proposals would result in the irreplaceable loss of the majority of the building’s historic fabric and would cause substantial harm to both the buildings significance and the settings of nearby listed buildings, including the Grade I listed parish church and bell tower, and the wider conservation area.

“The proposals fail to adequately address or justify such significant harm.”

The move was greeted with delight by Sue Walker White, chairman of Dereham Antiquarian Society, who led the campaign to save the building.

But she said it was not truly saved until JD Wetherspoon carried out the work that was needed to repair it.

“We will now look to Wetherspoons to do the right thing and this won’t be over until they start looking after it and face up to their responsibilities,” she said. “This decision does not save it from neglect and now they need to put right what they let slip.”

A spokesman for JD Wetherspoon said while they respected the decision by the planning authority they were “disappointed”. He added: “We will need to take some time to decision whether to take it to appeal or not. We are aware of the views of many of the people in the town.”

Elizabeth Gould, Breckland Council executive member for planning, building control and housing, said the council took its duty to preserve the district’s heritage assets extremely seriously.

She added: “This listed building forms an integral part of the street landscape and adds to the character of the town. In the council’s view the proposed works of demolition are wholly unwarranted and we have therefore refused permission. I am aware of the strong local feeling these applications have aroused and share in the wider public concern to ensure that heritage assets of value are retained for our own enjoyment and that of future generations.”

* What do you think JD Wetherspoon should do with the cottage? Email kathryn.cross@archant.co.uk.

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