Breakthrough in Lancaster as brewery building is listed

SAVE is hailing the decision by the Architecture Minister Margaret Hodge to list a rare 18th-century malthouse in Lancaster as a crucial breakthrough in efforts to save a sensitive historic industrial quarter from the bulldozers.

Today’s announcement comes just weeks after SAVE secured an injunction to halt demolition work on the Mitchell’s Brewery complex (of which the malt house forms part) which lies at the heart of the ‘Canal Corridor North’ site, east of the city centre.

The listing came in response to a detailed representation made to English Heritage (EH) by surveyor Alan James of local group It’s our City. James believed that the malthouse was earlier than previously thought and this has been confirmed by analysis carried out by EH’s listing team which dated the surviving timbers to the 1750s. In its recommendation to list, EH refers to the malthouse as ‘a rare example of a C18 maltings built on this scale and as such is of special interest’. The malthouse forms a ‘wing’ of brewery complex and its listed status will also give protection to the other brewery buildings.

Last year, a controversial council-backed application for a new shopping centre on the 8-hectare Canal Corridor site was thrown out by the Secretary of State following a Public Inquiry. SAVE joined forces with English Heritage and local group, It’s our City to oppose the scheme which involved the demolition of 30 historic buildings and the obliteration of the area’s historic street pattern. The developer and applicant, Centros, declined to defend the scheme and the council’s case collapsed mid-Inquiry.

However, despite the failed application the brewery remained unprotected and, following a u-turn by the council, demolition was allowed to commence in December last year. In a dramatic move SAVE’s lawyers then secured an injunction in the High Court preventing any further demolition work. This reprieve allowed the English Heritage inspectors finally to gain unrestricted access to the site and carry out the necessary detailed investigation.

William Palin, SAVE Secretary says ‘This is brilliant news for Lancaster. The brewery is a key historic building in the centre of the city with huge potential for repair and conversion to new uses. Our alternative scheme, commissioned from Richard Griffiths, shows how the brewery could form the heart of a mixed-use conservation-led scheme, occupying one side of a new public square.’

‘SAVE has always maintained that a ‘softer’, phased, mixed-use development drawing on the special character of this area was both the best and most deliverable option for Lancaster. With big, chain-led retail schemes stalling all over the country, surely the council will now at last recognise the wisdom of SAVE’s approach.’

‘This has been a real team effort. SAVE wishes to pay tribute to both It’s our City and English Heritage for securing protection for the malt house. And we would of course like to thank our superb legal team led by Susan Ring of Richard Buxton Solicitors for its quick and effective action in securing an injunction against demolition.’

SAVE’s President, Marcus Binney, says ‘SAVE has fought this epic battle with a constant eye to practicalities. We have commissioned architects to produce an alternative scheme which will make Lancaster a more attractive place to live work shop and visit. It’s our City have demonstrated the enormous local support for a heritage led approach in the canal quarter. We hope the city council will now look at alternatives to the rejected Centros scheme which the developers would not even defend at the public Inquiry.’

The vulnerability of the brewery was highlighted by an arson attack just three days ago. Thanks to the vigilance of locals and the quick response of the fire services, the fire was contained and did not spread to the main buildings.