A £10m bid has been lodged with the Heritage Lottery to “open up” the Grade I listed building, including proposals for a new entrance in the front of the iconic structure.
But members of the Victorian Society fear the Harris could end up with a “huge hole smashed into its base”.
The society says the suggested new entrance would involve creating a “massive portal through the base”, and said: “This would dramatically alter the façade of the building and the Victorian Society believes is unjustifiably destructive to the building’s architectural significance.”
In an objection letter to the chairman of the North West Committee, Aidan Turner-Bishop, secretary for the Save Our Harris Group, said: “It’s frankly shocking, even baffling, that those supposedly charged with supporting our city’s arts and culture could even consider such a drastic intervention in one of our most important works of art.”
The society says better access could be achieved without causing such “irrevocable harm” to the building, “for example via the eastern façade on Lancaster Road or the north and south elevations”.
The Victorian Society is now urging Preston Council to commission a “comprehensive assessment” of the building’s significance now, and to rethink the proposals.
Project leader for the Re-Imagining Project, Jon Finch, said: “The Re-Imagining the Harris project has been built on extensive engagement with local communities, partners and stakeholders.
“The project is at an early stage and we want to continue to hear what people – of all ages and from all walks of life – think about these early ideas and the way forward for the Harris.
“This is an ongoing dialogue, in which we are actively encouraging feedback, and are keen to continue to work with all interested parties to secure the future success of the Harris.
“For instance we have been approached by the architecture departments from both the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester Metropolitan University to consider the challenges, and their possible solutions, of the Re-Imagining Project and will be working with them in the coming weeks.”