Battle to preserve Preston’s Harris Orphanage site to be decided this week
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The scheme, re-submitted by owners the Bhailok family, would see the historic development converted into 37 homes if members of the planning committee follow advice from their officers and vote it through.
The former cricket field at the rear, where England star Andrew Flintoff learned to play the game, would be lost along with its pavilion. Nine Grade II Listed buildings which formed the Victorian orphanage village, would be converted into homes, as would the old chapel, school and Master's House.
And more than 300 objections from the public would be ignored if one of the most disputed planning applications the city has known was allowed to go ahead.
The project has been strongly opposed by conservation groups including Historic England, The Victorian Society and Save Britain's Heritage. Sport England have lodged objections because of the loss of the former cricket field. Two local councillors - Lib-Dems Fiona Duke and Tony Raisbeck - have lodged personal objections too. Yet council officers have recommended that the application should get the green light when it is up for consideration at Thursday's planning committee - two years after they opposed the idea because of the impact it would have on an important heritage site.
The officers have said as many as 25 conditions should be attached to the planning consent and also the developer Eden Grove Investment Properties - a company owned by the Bhailok family - should be required to pay a Section 106 contribution towards the future management of the public open space in the development. But that is unlikely to satisfy locals who are adamant the plans for housing would destroy the authenticity of the historic Harris Orphanage site which is regarded as one of only a handful of Victorian model villages in the whole of the UK.
When plans were first revealed they sparked an angry response from Save Britain's Heritage which said the redevelopment "threatens to destroy the integrity and unique significance of Harris Park, and conflicts with its status as a listed park and garden and conservation area." In 2020 Marcus Binney, executive president, said: " The Harris village is of exceptional quality and must be protected from intrusive development."
The original plans for the orphanage site were thrown out by the council in December 2020 after protests from the public. The new application offers to reduce the number of houses on the old cricket field from 23 to 14 and cuts the number of new homes built on the main orphanage site from seven to two. But the number of objections lodged against the overall scheme has risen from 220 in 2020 to 338. One objector said the development should not go ahead as the site was left to the people of Preston by benefactor Edmund Robert Harris. Another said it should never have been sold off to a private buyer.
The orphanage was opened in 1888 and was leased to Lancashire County Council in 1940. It closed as a children's home in 1982 and was leased to Preston Polytechnic, the forerunner of the University of Central Lancashire. It was bought by the Bhailok family in 2006.