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Derby Council set to approve demolition of Brutalist landmark

Controversial plans to demolish the 1970s Derby Assembly Rooms are recommended for approval by city councillors tonight, despite there being no firm plan for a replacement
Ahead of a meeting of Derby City Council’s planning committee this evening (8 April), the planning report acknowledges ‘demolition is likely to be the first phase of redevelopment, but this proposal does not seek redevelopment, only demolition. It does not provide any certainty in relation to the future permanent use of the site’.

A petition against knocking down the Casson Conder Architects theatre and music venue has received more than 1,400 signatures, while images produced of proposed ‘meanwhile uses’ for the site by design agency Katapult provoked anger on Twitter this week.
Architectural historian Otto Saumarez Smith called the council’s actions a ‘slo-mo car crash’ and the proposed meanwhile use a ‘grotesque failure of imagination’.

The planning report recommends that the demolition proposal is either approved with conditions or referred to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick with a resolution that councillors are minded to grant such approval.

The report claims that the Assembly Rooms are ‘functionally and economically obsolete' and that the the vitality of Derby city centre is in urgent need of regeneration because it has been declining, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it notes 38 objections, including the petition, which was set up by Derbyshire architect Robert Evans of Evans Vettori. Objections include the architectural merit of Casson Conder's building and the argument that demolition is wasteful and at odds with Derby City Council’s declaration of climate emergency in 2019.

Evans told the AJ: ‘The building is a fine example of 1970s architecture and, as the AJ [RetroFirst campaign] says, the building you've already got is the most sustainable one.

‘If you've got £20 million or £30 million, is it better to spend that on improving the venue you have, or on pulling it down and spending whatever you have left on building another from scratch? To me, it’s a complete no-brainer to retain this building, regardless of what you think of it.’

Others to object include the the city’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee, the council’s built environment team, The Twentieth Century Society and Historic England, which said last year that knocking down the Assembly Rooms would ‘completely remove the essential enclosure of a substantial part of the Market Place’ and would do ‘harm to the significance, character and appearance’ of the conservation area.

The current Assembly Rooms building was completed in 1977 to replace an 18th-century building of the same name that was destroyed by fire. In 2014 another blaze obliterated the plant room of the new structure, which has been largely vacant ever since.

The Assembly Rooms currently has a certificate of immunity from listing, which expires next month.

Meanwhile, separate plans are being worked up by AJ100 practice Corstorphine + Wright for a new 3,500-capacity venue in the Becketwell area of Derby.

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