C20 Society launches listing bid in response to Pollard Thomas Edwards cinema scheme
Campaign group the Twentieth Century Society has launched a bid to get a further chunk of Basildon’s post-war town centre listed in an effort to protect its Festival of Britain architecture from redevelopment.
The group is calling on Basildon council to rethink its proposals to demolish four-storey Freedom House and a parade of shops to make way for a 10-screen cinema and restaurant complex, designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards.
Basildon approved the proposals, which the authority itself commissionned, over the summer. The decision came despite an acceptance that the redevelopment woud impact on neighbouring 14-storey Brooke House, which is grade II listed.
In addition to the demolition of Freedom House and the shops, the scheme would reqire the removal of a staircase and a bench from Brooke House, designed by Anthony B Davies in conjunction with Basil Spence, who created the Basildon New Town Masterplan.
The cinema proposals also necessitate relocation of a wire-and-aluminium relief by sculptor AJ Poole from Freedom House. The C20 Society said placing the artwork, titled “Man Aspires”, on a nearby contemporary building would “belittle and minimise the impact” of what was an “important piece”.
Conservation officer Clare Price said Freedom House and the parade of shops behind in East Walk, with moulded façade and colonnade, were particularly fine examples of Festival of Britain style that flourished in the 1950s.
She said the society was seeking the buildings’ listing and urged Basildon council to consider other nearby sites that were more suitable for the new cinema complex.
“There is a clear opportunity here for imaginative refurbishment proposals not just a short-sighted and overpowering redevelopment which would destroy what makes Basildon unique,” she said.
“Such a solution would not preclude public realm improvements and access problems being resolved: this can be done while retaining the existing buildings.
“The council does not seem to have adequately taken into account the significance of the architecture of the site.
“Total demolition of a large number of buildings in this potential conservation area will undoubtedly alter the character of the area and damage its significance irretrievably.”
Anthony Hedley, who chairs Basildon’s regeneration committee, said the wider social benefits of the cinema proposals had been a “significant factor” in the authority’s decision to approve the plans, and that there were no alternative sites for the cinema development in the council’s ownership.
“We have worked closely with architects at Pollard Thomas Edwards to ensure the project taps into the cultural heritage of Basildon, with the ambitious design being inspired by the original spirit of the new town identity,” he said.
Hedley added that government heritage adviser Historic England had been content not to intervene in the project.
The C20 Society has proposed the creation of a new conservation area to cover Basildon town centre as part of a recent Historic England-funded research project that sought to identify yet-to-be-designated areas of heritage from the past 100 years.
Basildon was designated as a new town in 1949, together with Harlow, Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead and Bracknell.