Gravesend Temple Escapes Bulldozers after Successful Legal Challenge
A Sikh temple and former church in Gravesend, Kent, has escaped demolition following a successful legal challenge by SAVE Britain’s Heritage. SAVE challenged Gravesham Council’s decision to approve the destruction of this fine Victorian building on grounds that it was unlawful. At the same time, SAVE served an injunction on the developer preventing demolition. On 9 September the council conceded defeat. The planning committee will now reconsider the application.
Although unlisted, the Gurdwara is in a conservation area and in good condition. Early in August, the council approved an application for its demolition to make way for a new residential development - a decision taken in the face of strong opposition from SAVE, the Victorian Society, Urban Gravesham (the Civic Society), and local residents. SAVE then instructed its lawyers, Susan Ring of Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Harriet Townsend of 2-3 Grays Inn Square, to issue a legal challenge based on a number of grounds, including a failure by the council to follow proper procedure in ignoring both national planning guidance and the advice of its own conservation officer.
The Gurdwara was originally built as a congregational church. The architect was Sir John Sulman (1849-1934) who built over 70 other churches in this country. However, he is best known for his work in Australia, where he became a leading architect and an important figure in the field of town planning. He designed a number of civic and institutional buildings including the Civic Centre buildings in Canberra and is credited with playing an important role in the development of Australia’s cultural identity.
The church falls within the Windmill conservation area and has also been included in a list of buildings of local interest. In opposing the application to demolish, SAVE, together with other objectors, argued that this was a landmark building which made a positive contribution to the conservation area and that its loss would not be outweighed by the public benefits of the new development. Since its construction, the building has been more or less in constant use and has been well maintained. Despite WWII bomb damage and some unsympathetic alterations it has retained its overall integrity and much of its original fabric.
Included in the grounds for SAVE’s legal challenge was that the consent for demolition ran contrary to Gravesham Council’s conservation policy, as laid out in the recent conservation area appraisal. Also, crucially, SAVE felt the council failed to pay proper attention to national heritage guidelines for the demolition of buildings within conservation areas as set out in PPG15. SAVE argued from the outset that the motive for demolition appeared to be purely financial and there was little evidence that the feasibility of other uses have been seriously investigated.
Given the damage inflicted upon Gravesend during the Blitz and later as a result of post-war road-led redevelopment, the decision to condemn this building seemed all the more tragic and short-sighted. William Palin, Secretary of SAVE, says ‘SAVE is delighted that the council has admitted its decision to allow demolition was unlawful and that it will now reconsider this application. We hope that the application will be refused and that, instead, the council will encourage a scheme for sympathetic reuse.’
NOTES TO EDITORS
SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architects, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.
For further information please contact William Palin or Catherine Townsend on 020 7253 3500 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.savebritainsheritage.org
Richard Buxton Environmental and Planning Law
19B Victoria Street
Cambridge CB1 1JP
2-3 Gray's Inn Square
PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY SAVE Britain’s Heritage, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ Registered Charity 269129