Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for historic Melton buildings on the former St Mary’s Hospital site to be saved from being demolished to make way for new housing.
Campaigners are unhappy that not enough people were consulted over the proposals to knock down former cells for vagrants dating back to the 1770s, which were outlined in an exhibition on Thursday.
Leaflets were delivered to homes off Thorpe Road neighbouring the planned development, which would see up to 50 properties built, but many people took to social media to complain that the demolition of historically important buildings should be considered an important matter for all town residents.
Melton Council has in recent years tried in vain to protect the vagrant cells by having them declared ‘listed’ but the authority say planning permission would still need to be secured before the buildings were demolished.
Glynn Cartwright, of community action group Melton Matters, who raised the online petition, which already has nearly 1,000 signatories, told the Melton Times: “Melton has already lost a lot of our history and we need to do something to preserve what we’ve got left.
“This should have been publicised more widely - it doesn’t just affect people living within a 500m radius, it affects everyone living in the borough.
“I’ve got no problem with them redeveloping the site for housing but I am concerned that we will lose part of our history if these cells are demolished.”
Homes England, a government body which promotes housebuilding, wants to demolish all the old buildings on the former hospital site except the original workhouse structure, which would be incorporated into the development to provide four one-bedroom apartments.
One of the buildings proposed for demolition is the one which housed cells which were used by vagrants as overnight shelter, near the entrance to the old workhouse. Mny of its original features remain intact, including the cell doors, a cabled alarm system and bars over the windows.
The boundary wall to the old hospital site would be retained if the scheme went ahead, as would the existing single entrance point on to the main A607 Thorpe Road.
Mr Cartwright added: “50 properties could mean 100 vehicles on this site and 200 vehicle movements every day.
“I wonder if the county council highways department would be happy with this amount of traffic using one access and mixing with traffic going to the school, Twinlakes and to Grantham.”
Melton Historical Society is also concerned about the loss of the vagrant cells, with the group’s Jean Bowes commenting: “We are very concerned about this proposals.
“Our members knew nothing about this exhibition until we saw comments about the scheme on Facebook.
“These cells date back to the 1770s and they are such an important part of our heritage.”
Jim Worley, the borough council’s assistant director for planning and regulatory services, told the Melton Times: “The council has in the past approached Historic England, which was formerly English Heritage, to make the buildings, including the vagrant cells, listed buildings but this was declined.
“However we have imposed what’s known as an Article 4 Direction, which has the effect of requiring them to apply for planning permission to demolish the buildings, when otherwise they would not need to do so.
“The Plans we have seen which we believe were the same as at the exhibition last week show demolition of the vagrant cells and the wings of the hospital building, but retention of its central block with the pediment feature, etc.
“There is no planning application to date.
“This is pre-application engagement with the local community to afford the opportunity to shape the proposals before they are formally submitted as an application.”
Homes England say residents who missed the exhibition can email their comments on the proposals to email@example.com but they must do so before July 19.
The organisation say it will listen to feedback given by local people and ‘where appropriate’ it will be incorporated into its submission for outline planning permission, which will be made at the end of this month, with a decision expected by borough planners around November.
Details have not been finalised although it is expected that the development will involve one and two-bed apartments, two and three-bed teraced houses and four-bed semi-detached properties. There are also plans for off-street parking for residents, landscaping and planting and pedestrian access throughout the site.
A spokesperson for Homes England told the Melton Times: “Homes England has carried out detailed work to determine the best option to redevelop the St Mary’s Hospital site. Our outline proposals include the retention of part of the former workhouse building, which would be converted into housing.
“A detailed heritage assessment has been carried out on the vagrant cells which weighed up any historical significance against the importance of providing new homes for the local community.
“Plans for the site are still subject to planning permission from Melton Borough Council.
“Members of the public will have a further opportunity to view and provide feedback on the proposals once they are submitted later this summer.”
To sign the Melton Matters petition to save the vagrants cells, go online to www.change.org/p/joe-orson-mbc-council-leader-save-our-heritage-melton-mowbray or email firstname.lastname@example.org to join the campaign or like the group’s Facebook page.