An objection by English Heritage may prevent Royal Mail from demolishing a historic Sutton Coldfield sorting office built by the American forces in the Second World War.
Royal Mail planned to build housing on its site in Upper Clifton Road, Sutton Coldfield, but needed special permission to knock down the sorting office which was constructed in 1942 to aid the war effort and receive post from America to dispatch to US forces fighting in Europe.
The heritage watchdog was scathing of Royal Mail’s view that the Grade II listed building was insignificant and not worth preserving, except as a small heritage display within a new development.
A statement from English Heritage concluded that there was not an exceptional case for demolition and it did not believe Royal Mail had made sufficient efforts to market the delivery hall or find a suitable alternative use.
It stated: “English Heritage considers that the building has substantial evidential, historical and communal interest, is of international relevance and that the protection afforded by listing is appropriate.”
In particular, the watchdog took issue with the Royal Mail’s claim that the building was unremarkable, and said it was an historic asset of international interest.
It said that the size, fabric and development of the building recorded the growing involvement of America in the war, and a less glamorous but essential aspect of the war effort.
It added: “While the list description recognises that it may be architecturally indifferent, the utilitarian economy of the building is redolent of the age.
“The cheap bricks, metal windows and utilitarian design immediately invoke our wartime history and thus have substantial aesthetic value.”
Following the intervention, council officials have recommended that the application to demolish the delivery office and build 51 new houses and a smaller sorting office complete with heritage exhibition on the site, bordering Sutton Park be refused at this week’s planning committee meeting.
The planning application was one of two options for the site currently being looked at.
A second option proposes partial demolition and restoration of the remainder of the building, reducing the number of houses to 27, making the development slightly less profitable to Royal Mail.
Both proposals involve the restoration of an 1879 train shed and its conversion into an office, complete with its own disused rail track running through it.
Royal Mail argued it would cost £432,000 to repair the roof and other essential heritage works would add £1.7 million to the repair bill, after which it would be left with a cavernous building worth just £1.4 million – which did not present good value for the taxpayer.
It also argued that the demolition option, in delivering almost double the number of homes, meant that it could offer some affordable housing on site.
Sutton Coldfield Civic Society supported demolition, saying the building was no longer fit for purpose, while the Tudor Hill Residents Association had no objection but was concerned the second option would increase traffic on Tudor Hill.
Planning officer John Davies, in his report, urged the planning committee to reject the application saying: “The applicant’s argument of exceptional circumstances for the demolition related to the condition of the building and impact on their operations, financial implications of its repair and refurbishment and also their desire to remain on site are important considerations.”
But he added: “I do not consider that they outweigh the loss of the heritage asset.” It was Great Barr-based historians Martin and Fran Collins who revealed much of the site’s war history in their book Letters To Victory.
Following their research they successfully applied to have the building listed almost a decade ago. Mr Collins welcomed the recommendation that the building be saved.
He said: “The more of this building that can be saved and restored, the better for the heritage of Sutton Coldfield.
“I am delighted that it looks like total demolition rejected.
“I would like to see the second option refused as well and the building completely retained.”