I think this might be controversial. From recent activity at the site, it seems like the former St. John’s School, in Lichfield Road Walsall Wood, may be about to be demolished, and it’s site possibly redeveloped, together with the derelict bungalow next door.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw an asbestos removal crew checking the place out, and other readers have written to me to tell me about other crews being seen around the derelict buildings, in one case an observer being told they were being prepared for demolition.
As far as I’m concerned, after four decades empty, neglected and a total eyesore, good riddance.
I am, of course, very well aware of the history of the building, but in itself, it’s not historic. It’s not listed, and has no special interest architecturally, in that it’s similar to many hundreds of schools of the period still extant throughout the country. I agree that in the history of Walsall Wood, it is socially significant, but it’s time has passed, and like the former Warrener’s Arms in Brownhills, it’s time to let it go.
Added to this, there are the practical considerations. When I first started to look at the planning history of this sad, decaying and once proud building way back in the beginnings of this blog in 2009, I expected the story to be different. I thought there had been a succession of failed applications. The legend had it the building was listed, and that the authorities would not let it be developed. This isn’t the case at all, and confounded me. So much so that I don’t think I ever managed to write a proper article about it.
The former school has been passed from owner to owner for more or less 40 years now, and a procession of planning applications have been made, and generally approved; from conversions into flats, to a Senior Citizens care home and even a craft centre. None came to fruition, and I suspect the reason for that is that the building would be very expensive to convert to another use. As planning wonk and top bloke Andy Dennis has pointed out on several occasions here, it’s important and necessary to preserve heritage, but it’s very hard to find uses that are economically viable, and government agencies provide little incentive to do so.
Complicating this, of course, has been the nursery operating from part of the same site, and the former Caretaker’s House in one gable remaining in use and different ownership, currently the Co-op, apparently. The whole thing, in my view, if not a poisoned chalice is certainly a Curate’s Egg. There is much to resolve in any development on the site – not least how you raze the derelict part without harming the occupied section. Look at the distortion in the roof timbers.
The last planning application to be submitted in 2012 – 12/0736/FL ‘Demolition of the former St. John’s School and no.11 Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood and construction of 12 houses with associated car parking and site works’ was recommended for approval last December, and is currently still pending subject to agreements on Section 106 matters.
Section 106 is the legality surrounding mitigatory actions obliged to be taken by developers in return for the granting of planning permission. A good definition can be found here – in short, the planning application is awaiting agreement on what a future developer will agree to do in return for receiving permission to proceed.
The whole site has a sale posting at Savills Property Sales which closed November 4th 2013. It’s reasonable to think the site has now been purchased, and a developer is cracking on. Of course, following clearance, the site could lie undeveloped, be resold, or a modified or new application could be submitted, so keep watching carefully.
The details of the current planning application are below. As can be seen, they involve demolition of the derelict majority of the former school and bungalow next door, leaving the occupied gable intact and building on a row of terraced homes, in a broadly similar style to the building demolished. In the land behind, a close of dwellings will be constructed, to a total of 12 homes.
I don’t have a problem with this. We need the homes. A couple of derelict, eyesore buildings that attract ASB and look awful will be gone. Yes, we’ll lose part of Walsall Wood’s historic architecture. But there’s nothing else on the table, and with the building in the state it’s in, there’s never likely to be. The site has had four decades to find new purpose, and hasn’t. As Matthew Carter said, ‘If you love something, you have to let it change’. So be it.
People are always more important than buildings in my view. The history is people, memories and the recording thereof, not decaying bricks and mortar, no matter how noble they are or were. Communities have to move forward, take heed of the past but not be hidebound by it.
I’m not expecting many folk will agree with this. Feel free to comment or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.