Historic town centre building revamp approved despite objections

PLANS for an £11 million revamp of a group of historic town centre buildings were approved despite objections over the loss of the Victorian section.

The 19th century Westgate Chambers buildings on Domine Lane will be demolished as part of the project by developers HMP Bespoke Construction.

The Main Street side of the site will be kept, creating a complex of shops, 61 apartments with a new courtyard area in between.

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Historic England inspector Emma Sharpe said: “We are not convinced all options to retain the contribution the 19th century buildings on Domine Lane make to the character of the conservation area have been exhausted.

“We welcome the proposed works to the historic buildings along Main Street and Westgate but consider the remainder of the proposals are a missed opportunity to continue the good work and aspirations set out in the Rotherham Town Centre Masterplan. 

“The area around Domine Lane has already lost so many of its historic buildings and historic character and we cannot support further loss without strong justification.”

There were ten objection letters, mostly centred on the loss of heritage and privacy for residents already living in nearby flats.

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Businessman Mark McGrail, who owns the 1915 Bar next door, said: “The scheme in itself is fantastic but my objection is the pulling down of the Victorian building. 

“Rotherham has had a fantastic nightlife. We’re investing in it in a big way. We think it’s got a fantastic future but heritage is the key and we think Rotherham is failing itself by pushing this forward.”

Mr McGrail said he would not want to live beside his bar, adding: “I’m very proud of the club but I wouldn’t want to be woken up at 2am listening to people coming out.”

Rotherham Borough Council’s planning board voted in favour of the plan by nine votes to three.

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Cllr Bob Walsh said: “On balance, I think this is probably the best we are going to get.

“We are faced with a choice which isn’t really between conservation and development but it’s between development and dilapidation.

“We have to do something to encourage developers to put money into the town and we have to bear in mind that the rents people can charge at the moment are not great.”

Board chairman Cllr Alan Atkin said: “If it wasn’t for the demolition of that building, I would be putting both hands up for it. Because it has some architectural merit, I’ve got some reservations.

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“But when you look at that part now, nobody would walk down Domine Lane. 

“It’s dark, gloomy, not very welcoming. Anything new down there has got to be a good thing.”

Peter Hill, director of HMP Bespoke Construction, said: "These are exciting times ahead for all concerned with this prestigious scheme.”

The site had faced an uncertain future after the council decided to sell three years ago, saying it had no money for a redevelopment.

Rotherham Rise, 1915 and the Co-op building are not affected by the plans.

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