“Over 30 years ago, in the mid 1980s, I helped to set up the local group, Save Whiteleys Action Group (SWAG) which successfully campaigned to save the Whiteley’s building from demolition. SWAG worked closely with the then owners Standard Life and BDP Architects to ensure that the unique Whiteleys legacy lived on.
Now, 30 years later, we are fighting a similar battle and I am writing to you and your Committee to ask that you reject the current proposals so that the principal architectural features of this Grade II listed building can be saved. These historic features are:
* The octagonal and round galleried atria with their magnificent Edwardian glass domes,
* The ornate Italianate staircase, a replica of the one in La Scala Opera House in Milan (see picture above)
* North, south & central pillared entrances with intricate stonework and bronze statues.
* Whiteleys shopping arcade on the ground floor which will allow public access to view and enjoy these delightful historic features whilst shopping.
You will be aware of the huge local public interest in retaining these historic features, as evidenced by the two large petitions, the recent public demonstration and the large number of written objections to the Council.
In addition, significant objections have been made by:
· Save Britain’s Heritage say, “In proposing such harm these applications contravene both local and national planning policies, and permission should be refused. In particular, paras 126, 131, 132, 133 and 137, which concern the protection of heritage assets, must be taken into account.”
· The Twentieth Century Society say, “The onus on the local authority is to conserve heritage assets and not destroy them. This proposed development contemplates irreversible and detrimental alterations to a Grade II listed building, contrary to para 132. This application should be refused consent as it would create a situation which, according to the NPPF, should be “exceptional”. The Society would therefore urge WCC to refuse this application, & prevail upon the applicants to reassess their treatment of this heritage asset.”
· The Victorian Society say, “The most significant elements of the listed building and its interior. These include the circular and octagonal domes and, beneath, their corresponding atria. Within the circular atrium, accessed by way of the impressive main entrance vestibule, is a handsome spiral staircase. Although they have been restored over the decades, the atria remain largely in their original form and together they provide an eloquent and dramatic evocation of the spatial and sequential grandeur of the building’s interior. Their significance lies not so much in the aesthetic interest of each of the surviving elements – attractive though they are – as it does in their carefully choreographed arrangement and the experience that arrangement permits. The extent of loss of historic fabric would be seriously harmful to the integrity of the building. As noted above, while the 1980s redevelopment entailed the loss of a large portion of the former Whiteleys store, it did nonetheless preserve some of its more significant elements. The loss of those elements proposed to be demolished would erode the interest of the building to a critical degree and would render it a mere historic veneer. The relocation of the staircase and entrance vestibule screen, and the re-siting of the circular dome would fail to preserve their significance, which lies in their being experienced sequentially and as an ensemble. This space was, and remains, the most significant in the building and it must be preserved.”
· Historic England say, “The central and octagonal atria along with the grand central staircase make a clear aesthetic contribution to the building’s special interest. Both atriums and their respective domes, are clearly an intrinsic part of the original interior design of Whiteleys; providing drama and grandeur along the intended processional route through the building. These atria provide a tangible link to the architects, Joass and Belcher’s original design and their loss is considered particularly regrettable.”
I fully appreciate and accept that to be successful going forward, Whiteleys must have an economically viable plan. I have been impressed by the alternative proposal put forward by the Save Whiteleys Heritage Group who say:
“In order to accommodate the heritage assets, namely the octagonal atria and dome, it is suggested that the first floors in the Queensway building and the Mews building should be utilised for residential flats. A total of approx 27 flats could be created on the first floor of the two buildings. This will compensate for the loss of residential flats in the octagonal atrium.”
I urge you and your committee to reject the current proposals so that the current owners can work with Save Whiteleys Heritage and local residents to re-think their plans in order to preserve Whiteleys historic and much-loved features.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg