The Old Vicarage – 24 Zetland Street

April 15, 2024

A blog by our chair, inspired by this story in the Wakefield Express:

The recent proposal to demolish this ancient and historic building has caused a bit of a ripple in Wakefield, and so it should!  Over 1,000 objections and still rising shows that this quiet back street is not as anonymous as the building owners had assumed.

The building is owned by Wakefield and Rothwell Conservative Association, with named trustees taking responsibility for the building.  This creates quite a few implications and twists, adding to the outrage people feel about knocking down history to make a car park!

Firstly, to all the people who objected saying the council should be ashamed of their plans to demolish the building – this is clearly not a council plan, it is the owner’s plan – the local Conservative Party.  The council planners and planning committee have to decide whether to allow the demolition to go ahead, or not.

Unfortunately, our members with knowledge of the planning system tell me that unless a building is listed, it can be difficult for planners to refuse permission to demolish even valued, significant, historic buildings like this.  The Old Vicarage is locally listed, and we hope that the sheer number of objections is enough to empower the planning committee to refuse!   You can add your comments here:

It may need a civic campaign to save this building. 

People quite rightly object to this, because we don’t need more parking; because we have a City Centre Masterplan and this is not compatible with it; because we are in a climate emergency and we should not be encouraging more traffic; because this part of town is narrow, congested and unable to cope with the additional traffic from a new car park. 

In fact, access to Zetland Street by private car (to use the proposed car park) requires drivers to drive along Sun Lane, down Lower Warrengate and onto Vicarage Street.  All of these are highly congested with parked cars.  This would increase congestion, and therefore risk, to the already squeezed communities living on these three streets.  Leaving Zetland Street requires driving back down Vicarage Street and onto Kirkgate to a bus lane or adding even more congestion to Lower Warrengate and Sun Lane by driving in the opposite direction.  To anyone who has visited the Swimming Pool, the Salvation Army or the Red Shed, this is quite a ludicrous proposal.  Highways need to revisit their assessment of impact.

People object because they value Wakefield’s heritage.  This building was the Vicarage for All Saints Parish Church long before it was the Cathedral, and through quite tumultuous historic times – hence the escape tunnels rumoured to be underneath it.  That is has been allowed to decay to this extent is shameful and is a stain on the current owners, the local Conservative Party, who have profited in rent and inflating property values for a century.  People value our heritage, they want to see historic buildings looking historic, well cared for, in use – not left to rot by people who should know better.

Finally, people objected because they value the businesses that operate from this building, particularly the Skate Shop, Division 24, which from comments, is clearly a valued business and amenity.

However, in addition to the above “planning reasons” for objecting, there are other reasons for wanting to stop the proposal.  Hear me out.

Firstly, as architects and planners know, buildings have huge “embodied carbon”.  The emissions associated with a building are huge – it is always a more environmentally friendly option to repair and renovate than to demolish and rebuild.

The building has been owned by the Wakefield and Rothwell Conservative Association for around a century.  A current trustee, Mr Formuli says in the press that current trustees are not responsible for the application.  Indeed, the Wakefield Express article quotes a now independent councillor at length, who is quite vociferous about the building.  There are questions for the press to investigate here about who is behind the plan, whether the current trustees support the application or not, and what the relationship is really like between current and ex-Conservative Party members.  Not for us to speculate.

Cllr Homewood is quoted in the press saying
“The building is in an appalling state of repair and requires considerable work.” 

He went on to say
“At the end of the day the building is structurally unsound and while it might be old it is not of a standard that warrants listing.  It would cost tens of thousands of pounds to put this into effect and it is not economically viable to do so.  The truth of it is, the trust wants to sell it because it is time to move on.  It is understandable that any purchaser would want to see it demolished because it is not economically viable.  Because it would cost so much money to repair there is really only one place this building belongs, and that is on the floor.”

Let’s unpack these statements. 

The “building is structurally unsound”, but it is occupied by tenants – businesses visited by the public.  If it is that dangerous, why is it still in use? 

Is the local Conservative Association a negligent, rogue landlord, endangering the public, are they exaggerating the problems to off load what they see as a problem asset, or is the application speculative and not actually supported by current party members?

The “building is in an appalling state of repair” – whose fault is this?  Which owner has been responsible for a century and failed to invest in and protect its valuable, historic asset? 

The press article talks of a trust that owns the building.  What is this trust?

Again, more big questions for the press to explore.   

So in summary, having been responsible for the Old Vicarage for a century, presided over years of neglect and decline, the local Conservative Association now apparently want to demolish a treasured, historic and culturally significant building, in order to create a few parking spaces for a few pounds a day and maybe (more likely?) a future land sale.  The “party of business” wants to destroy small, sustainable businesses to cash in on its asset. 

To the politically neutral, this whole story seems a very generous gift to all the other political parties, less than a month before the local elections.  It is an unusual coincidence that the owner responsible for the building is a political party, but the identity and status of the applicant is hidden.

Perhaps the Wakefield and Rothwell Conservative Association could answer the above questions with a transparent, unambiguous press statement.  The sheer number of objections (over 1,000 and still rising) says that this building is of significant local interest!

To finish on a positive, it does seem from comments in the planning portal that there would be enthusiasm for the building to be donated to a community trust to repair and renovate.  I wonder if the current owners would consider such a conservative approach?  Imagine the Old Vicarage cleaned, repaired, renovated, with a lush, peaceful garden around it, with community meeting rooms as well as the existing businesses.  Maybe even volunteers from the Salvation Army opposite involved?

We can but dream…

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