IT IS good news that the Northern Area Planning Committee of TVBC refused both the applications to demolish the 1869 Acre Almshouses, and to replace them with a modern building.

With a whole host of representations in favour of the old buildings being retained and the case officer’s recommended refusal of the application in the near 100-page document, the case for refusal was a strong one; however, the charity trustees are on something of a crusade and no doubt they will try again, either through an appeal to the Secretary of State or with a revised plan for a new building.

Much was made during the meeting of the internal condition of the almshouses. The councillors' viewing of the properties, hosted by the trustees a few days earlier, was worked up into some sort of horror story; committee members could feel their feet almost sinking through the rotting floorboards and the smell of damp was over-powering. Well, maybe so, but all this is a non-issue because the situation could be transformed by a radical, full restoration project including, I would suggest, the removal of the incongruous, 1950s rear extension which should be replaced by a structure that is in keeping with the original design. The fact that such remedies have never been properly considered was revealed by the architect who had to admit that no structural survey has ever been carried out and that, although claiming to have had over 50 years’ experience in dealing with almshouses, he was unable to quantify the amount required to restore them. In fairness to him, his remit was to design a new building and not to look into the possibilities of saving the old ones but as he used the argument that the cost of restoration would be ‘enormous’ — a claim challenged by the leader, Cllr North, who wanted an idea of the amount - the failure to come up with a figure by him or indeed anyone else, was telling.

The internal condition has of course all been made worse because of understandable neglect by the charity trustees whose aim over the last seven years has been to demolish the houses and replace them. Three out of four properties in the block have been locked up with no ventilation and, not unreasonably, the trustees have not wanted to waste money on upkeep of a building that they intended to bulldoze. I do not criticise them for that, but it is a bit rich to then use the unfitness-for-habitation argument as justification for demolition.

In calculating the likely costs of restoration, we should bear in mind that a sum upwards of £1.5million is already the cost of this proposal and it will be to house just eight more people, one of whom one will be a warden. In the meantime, three houses are being deliberately left empty, depriving three needy people of accommodation, while the charity trustees battle on with what is increasingly looking like a vanity project.

David Borrett, Lansdowne Avenue, Andover