Fight is on to save historic brewery

With the result of the Lancaster Canal Corridor Public Inquiry due in the New Year, a fierce battle has begun to save a key building at the centre of the proposed redevelopment site. Currently, Mitchell’s Brewery, a rare and important complex which includes an 18th-century malthouse, is unprotected by listing or conservation area designation.
The building is still owned by local firm Mitchell’s, who are committed to the big, destructive, retail scheme for the site, promoted by developers Centros, with the support of Lancaster City Council (LCC). The scheme, which involved the demolition of the brewery (and 30 other historic buildings), hit the rocks last summer when it was called in by the Secretary of State. The subsequent Inquiry, at which Centros declined to appear, then collapsed when the council realised it could not justify the heritage impact of the scheme.
Although the application now seems certain to be rejected, Centros are clearly not giving up on the site. They have been using planning consultants Montagu Evans who advised the City Corporation and its developer at the Smithfield Inquiry, and Montagu Evans have now popped-up again, this time representing Mitchell’s.
The brewery complex has been empty for 10 years, during which time it has been turned down twice (inexplicably in SAVE’s view) for listing. Unfortunately, the site occupies a gap between two conservation areas, purely the result of a projected road scheme which was abandoned in the 1980s. The council is now in the process of reviewing conservation area boundaries and it seems likely that the recommendation will be for this protection to be extended to the brewery site. Local campaign group It’s our City has also submitted a strong new listing application, compiled by surveyor Alan James. With protection for the brewery in sight, the owners appear to have become increasingly eager to hasten demolition. So far, all the familiar tactics have been employed - scheduled visits by the English Heritage inspector were ‘postponed’ on account of concerns over asbestos (concerns that were not expressed when the Inspector and SAVE’s Secretary visited in September), then scaffolding was erected in the building for the ‘removal’ of this asbestos.
Seeing what Mitchell’s were up to, SAVE’s lawyer, Susan Ring of Richard Buxton Solicitors, attempted in vain to extract some kind of reassurance from the council that demolition would not be allowed to take place until certain obligations, including Environmental Impact Assessment and a bat survey had been discharged - threatening Judicial Review if they had not. Meanwhile, as well as pushing for access, EH made an unsuccessful request to the Secretary of State to extend conservation area designation over the heads of the council.
On 2 December, demolition work suddenly commenced. Later that afternoon, the council finally released a letter (held back from us until the last minute) to say that they were satisfied the demolition was lawful. SAVE’s legal team then acted with astonishing speed, with Andrew Deakin of 39 Essex Street securing an injunction by the following morning. This injunction allowed us to submit a Judicial Review request against the council to the courts the next day. In Lancaster, It’s our City mobilised local support to monitor the building day and night.
EH then upped the ante by offering to underwrite any compensation claims arising from a Building Preservation Notice (BPN) - and asking for the council to serve one immediately in order to allow the listing assessment to take place. The council had thus far refused to issue a BPN, giving costs as the main excuse. Now they cited various ‘technicalities’ but refused to specify what these were. In SAVE’s view the council was clearly failing to take the necessary lawful action required to protect the building pending a number of outstanding heritage and environmental issues.

The latest news is that LCC has postponed the start of consultation on the Conservation Area Boundary Review. An independent report was due to be made public on 8 December, but the council have now suppressed it, blaming SAVE’s legal action. The bizarre implication is that the council would have been happy to proceed with the review if the key building likely to affected by the boundary changes had been demolished, but not now that it is protected by an injunction.

The council and Mitchell’s have until 29 December to respond to SAVE’s Judicial Review claim.