The remaining part of Newark’s Robin Hood Hotel has been saved from the wrecking ball.
Newark and Sherwood District Council planning committee on Tuesday threw out a recommendation that three cottages, listed for protection, should be demolished.
Instead, they must now be restored as part of a contract the council has with the developer of the Potterdyke site, MF Strawson, within the next four years.
An independent report commissioned by the council found that demolition would be fair as refurbishment would dramatically affect Strawson’s financial return.
Strawson’s had set aside £150,000 for refurbishment, but discovered the work could cost £719,250, or £669,400 to retain the facade only.
Some councillors acknowledged the appalling state the buildings were in, but questioned why a developer’s profit was a consideration for them.
The committee chairman, Mr David Payne, said the council should not be bullied into agreeing to the demolition of a Grade II listed building for the sake of profit.
While acknowledging many people would like to see the cottages knocked down, Mr Payne said: “If the council does nothing, the cottages should be refurbished in four years and not demolished.”
That information was contained in an exempt briefing note that went to councillors before the meeting.
Mr Payne admitted he risked disciplinary action by revealing some of its content.
He listed planning guidelines he said would be contravened if the application was approved.
He said: “I have seldom seen such a wealth of professional opinion against an officer recommendation.”
Among the objectors was English Heritage.
“English Heritage say Newark is one of the best preserved market towns in England,” said Mr Payne. “That did not happen by accident.”
He said he had never known a recommendation to demolish a listed building since he had joined the council in 1975.
He said there had been 80 initial expressions of interest in developing Potterdyke.
All interested parties had been sent the same development brief, which included the refurbishment of the Robin Hood.
“This is a district council initiative,” said Mr Payne. “We initiated development, are parties to it and set the guidelines.”
The council is being paid more than £6m for Potterdyke, which it is receiving in instalments, although the Advertiser understands it was originally negotiated as a lump sum.
Strawson’s, backed by an independent report, say refurbishing the hotel is no longer financially viable and could leave the development with minimal return, so applied to knock it down.
The Nottinghamshire Buildings Preservation Trust has offered to do the restoration work but wants to be given the cottages, £650,000, right of access and extra land around the site.
Demolition was moved by the council’s deputy leader, and former chairman of the its Potterdyke working party, Mr Roger Blaney.
Mr Blaney said Newark had 348 listed buildings and the district 1,400 more than the city of York.
He said only two were on English Heritage’s At Risk Register, the Robin Hood and Ollerton Hall.
He said he would prefer regeneration if that was viable, but he didn’t believe it was.
Mr Blaney said town centre regeneration schemes in Bradford, Oxford and Preston had all either been mothballed or abandoned in the current economic climate, but Newark had a developer willing to persevere for reduced profit.
“The best option for Newark is the regeneration of Potterdyke without further delay,” he said.
“If demolition is the price we have to pay for economic and public benefits not those of the developer but for Newark as a town it is a price worth paying.”
Mr Dennis Jones, who seconded the motion, said: “There is very little there to save.”
However, Mr Julian Hamilton said: “This seems to me an alternative between the heart and the head.
“A town is nothing without emotion. I will vote for emotion.”
Mr Blaney’s proposition was defeated by eight votes to four.
Mr Payne’s motion to refuse the application was passed by eight votes to four.
A director of Strawson’s, Mr Niel Strawson, said: “We are disappointed with the decision. We are considering our options.”
Newark Civic Trust said it was delighted with the decision.