ONLY one historic building will be left in the Piccadilly conservation area – as plans to demolish Swinson House and build a third new hotel were given the go ahead.
And there is a chance the road could be stripped of its conservation status as a result.
City of York Council’s planning committee approved plans for the former government tax office to be demolished and a 132-bedroom hotel to be built in its place by a majority of just one vote.
The warden of Grade I-listed St Denys Church next to the site warned the construction work could damage the church – which he revealed has no foundations in one area.
And some councillors on the committee protested at the loss of Swinson House, which was built in 1939 but is not listed or labelled as a “building of merit”.
Cllr Andy D’Agorne said: “Does the removal of this building mean that the conservation area would not longer be justified?
“Obviously we have got quite a lot of new buildings going up along Piccadilly and this could be the one that tips thing over into there no longer being particular merit for the whole street being designated a conservation area.
“The only thing left will be the facade of Banana Warehouse.”
Planning officers said it was a possibility but that it was very unlikely to happen, adding that the conservation area status does not mean the buildings need to be preserved in any way.
Officers agreed that the facade of Banana Warehouse further up the street – which is the only part of the building that will be preserved when a separate new hotel is built on the site – will be the only historic landmark left on Piccadilly.
Guy Hanson, the council’s architect, said: “The [Swinson House] building has suffered a number of damaging unsympathetic repairs over the years.
“It was quite pretty in its time but has changed.”
Dr Charles Kightly, church warden at St Denys’s Church, said he has worries about the construction work and increase in traffic damaging the historic Grade I-listed church.
He said £300,000 has already been spent on “propping up the north aisle which was endangered”.
Dr Kightly added that he is worried about the impact on the church hall, which is used by community groups.
Neighbour Jeremy Scott told the meeting he and his wife would be “massively impacted” by the plans.
He added: “The ever-increasing supply of hotel accommodation in York centre has already led to drastic price cutting which in turn will eventually lead to a lowering of quality and an increase in anti social behaviour.
Agent for the applicant Tim Ross said: “Local planning policy directs hotels to this city centre location.”
The developer added that the hotel will employ local residents, create apprenticeships and goes above the council’s sustainability requirements.
They have also offered to put money towards the church next door.
The Swinson House building is not suitable for being redeveloped, they claimed, adding that it has been rented out as office space to teams working on the hotel development across the road and has also been used as artists’ studios free of charge.
Cllr Martin Rowley: “It is a beautiful historic building and it’s probably just a stroke of a pen away from being listed.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Rowley said he was “very disappointed that the majority Liberal Democrat planning committee voted to approve the plans”.
He added: “This building could and should have been saved.”
Cllr Nigel Ayre said: “I’m not 100 per cent convinced that replacing the building with this building is the right thing for York – I have huge sympathy for retention of the building, but it’s not listed and it’s not identified as a building of merit. I don’t think officers would be able to defend [a refusal] against a planning appeal.
“I fear often we are in danger of keeping 90 year old buildings with absolutely no merit and we will end up with a 30 to 40 year vacuum in terms of architectural history in York because we have refused to build anything new.”