ANDOVER’S conservation area should be redrawn if a £1.5million redevelopment project of almshouses is given the go-ahead, according to a historical body.

Revamped plans for the town’s historic almshouses, in Adelaide Road, have come under fire from Historic England and conservation experts which are trying to block a three-year fight to demolish the four existing flats to be replaced with an extended three floor building containing 12 flats.

The plans also include a guest room and a meeting room as well two “first floor balcony gardens” which will be open for communal use.

The project was stalled in 2016 due to complications over land ownership between Andover Charity Trustees, the group behind the scheme, and Hampshire County Council, but these have since been resolved.

However, amended proposals lodged with Test Valley Borough Council (TVBC) have drawn criticism, with some damning the scheme as “eroding” the “special historic and architectural interest” of the town’s conservation area.

The town’s conservation area which is of “special architectural or historic interest” was extended in 1984 to include Church Close, East Street and London Street to name a few.

In a comment to TVBC, Marion Brinton of Historic England said: “In my view the proposal would not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area.

“Simplistically if this building was demolished the boundary of the conservation area would have to be redrawn to exclude this site as the ‘special architectural or historic interest’ would be entirely lost.

“There is no convincing explanation as to why the existing alms house could not be retained and extended.”

Ms Brinton’s comments and that of TVBC’s conservation officer have sparked backlash from project consultants Armour Heritage which has said that those criticising the scheme have overlooked the “communal and charitable benefits of the proposed building”.

Rob Armour Chelu, from the company, said: “The overriding tone of the letter is rather negative in respect of the proposed new almshouses.

“Whilst I would agree that the proposed new building is of a different character to both the existing, and the local architecture, the aesthetic of the wider conservation area and townscape is one which includes a wide variety of dates and styles. I would argue that ‘change’ need not always equate to ‘harm’, and I believe this to be particularly true of this site.

“The proposal offers a dynamic new building which may serve as a gateway to the town and conservation area.”

Andover historian Craig Fisher has also criticised the plans for the almshouses, which have stood since 1896, calling on TVBC to commitment to the conservation area.

He said: “There can be no halfway house, where we pick and choose what buildings to destroy and what to keep, and more importantly, what we choose to build in their place.

“It doesn't matter how many cutesy black and white sketches of street views are drawn up to try to fool us into believing that this new building will blend seamlessly into the built landscape, the new flats will dominate the area and stand out as a modern, three-storey brick bunion on the footprint of the conservation area, changing it irrevocably.”

If the plans are passed, the charity behind the scheme will then begin to seek funding for the project, which they estimate will cost around £1.5 million.