Planning inspector rules 226-home proposals would harm historic buildings in Surrey town

Corstorphine & Wright-designed proposals to replace a former Debenhams department store in Staines-upon-Thames with two residential towers have been blocked by a planning inspector.

The practice’s plans, drawn up for developer Future High Street living, would have delivered 226 build-to-rent flats in blocks of 13 and 15 storeys. But they were rejected by Spelthorne Borough Council in June last year.

The Surrey council cited the effect of the proposals on the Staines Conservation Area and its impact on listed buildings and non-designated heritage assets. The four-storey Debenhams store is a non-designated heritage asset in the town.

In March this year Spelthorne’s attempts to extend the town’s conservation area to include the former department store were found to be unlawful by a High Court judge.

Nevertheless, planning inspector Hayley Butcher has backed the authority’s decision to reject the twin-tower proposals, ruling that the scheme would dominate some views of Georgian buildings in the conservation area and serve as a distraction from the historic foreground.

She cited more than one dozen listed buildings within the conservation area as well as non-designated heritage assets. Butcher said the demolition of the 1960s Debenhams building itself would result in the “removal of a historic layer of culture and interest” for the town centre.


The former Debenhams department store in Staines

In a decision issued last month, Butcher acknowledged consent given to other tall buildings – either proposed or built-out – in the town. She said they were generally set away from the predominantly low-rise High Street.

“In this case the tall buildings would be sited in the centre of the town with one of the towers being located directly on High Street,” she said.

“The High Street is domestic and human in scale consisting of a wide pedestrianised street lined with predominantly two and three storey retail and food outlets.


Corstorphine & Wright’s proposed towers

“Currently, the former Debenhams at four storeys is one of the most dominant buildings on the High Street matched most closely by the Premier Inn at the other end.

“The result is these two four storey buildings effectively work as bookends to the High Street whilst being broadly in-keeping with the scale of surrounding buildings.”

Butcher said Corstorphine & Wright’s High Street tower would be “vastly taller” and would “feel dominating and oppressive” when viewed in close proximity. She said the other tower would be less problematic.


The inspector said that while the benefits of the new homes and proposed transport improvements should attract significant weight, preserving the setting of Staines’ built heritage required “great weight”.

“Given the multiple heritage assets I have found to be adversely affected in this case I find that this harm is not outweighed by the public benefits,” she said.