The whole saga originates from the Council’s search for new office accommodation, with the majority of staff on the Town Hall site housed in the uninspiring 1980’s extension to the south of the original Town Hall. A number of potential solutions were evaluated, including renovating the existing buildings, leasing other existing office buildings (including Wellington House, St Martin’s Place and Landmark Place) and building a new Town Hall in the town centre.
Throughout the entire process, it is clear that many councillors were in favour of the original Town Hall being kept; the Overview and Scrutiny Committee stating on 6 September 2007 that:
"The Committee was strongly and unanimously of the view that the core of the old Town Hall building should be maintained, whatever future use the Town Hall site is put to"
The Committee later reiterated this on 7 February 2008:
"the core or at least the frontage of the Old Town Hall building should be retained at any future development given that it is felt to be an important building in the town"
The Commissioner of Resources then pushed for the complete demolition of the historic building, with the minutes from the meeting on 11 February 2008 stating:
"[its removal] would enable the building line to be brought in line with the office buildings along the A4"
"if the [historic] core was retained this would sanitise part of the development site, meaning it could not be developed effectively"
"the building was of no great architectural merit"
"It was felt that it would be best to maximise receipts from the site and spend money on a new building"
These statements give a useful insight into the mindset of the Council. They’re more concerned with how the office buildings line up along the A4 than they are with preserving an important piece of Slough’s heritage.
The comment about no great architectural merit comes from an assessment by consultants employed by the Council, who have rather conveniently ignored the opinion of their own Conservation Adviser and have instead employed expensive consultants to tell them exactly what they want to hear.
The final statement sums up the Council’s position perfectly - their focus seems to be on getting as much money by demolishing the historic Town Hall at whatever cost to Slough's heritage.
The "inconclusive" public consultation
The Council carried out a public consultation on the future of the Town Hall site, with fewer than 500 responses. They claimed the question about keeping the old Town Hall was inconclusive, and thus bolstering its case for demolition. In fact, nearly twice as many people wanted the historic building to be saved compared to those who wanted to see it demolished.
Having realised that listing the historic Town Hall would make demolition nearly impossible, the Council are now pursuing a strategy of attempting to discredit every opinion in favour of listing, including English Heritage’s. To achieve this, they are spending more council tax payers’ money on consultants (current estimates are around £25,000). They are also claiming that the building is falling into disrepair. This is not surprising as the Council have spent next to nothing in the past 5 years to maintain it, choosing instead to spend the money trying to get it demolished.
What the experts really think
The Council's claim that the historic Town Hall has no architectural merit is highly dubious, as there is considerable evidence to the contrary. An architectural consultant, employed by us to produce an assessment of the building’s potential for listing, describes it as:
"a fine example of the progressive tendencies of classically based design, with the influence of Swedish Romantic Classicism that was characteristic of public buildings during the 1930s"
and goes onto to say that:
"it qualifies [for listing] on architectural design, decoration and craftsmanship."
You can download the full copy of our expert's report.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in his architectural guide, called it:
"Neoclassical in the Swedish way. Graceful bell-turret and prettily-framed centre windows."
Slough Borough Council's own Conservation Adviser describes it as worthy of listing:
"not only for its undoubted architectural quality but also as an important civil reflection of the acquisition of Borough status in 1938"
John Betjeman, one of Slough’s greatest critics, was rather more enamoured by the Town Hall, writing:
"The unfinished Civic Centre with Swedish affectations, represents a striving for unity out of chaos."
English Heritage recommended it for listing for the following reasons:
"- A subtle design in a characteristic fusion of Scandinavian and Neoclassical styles, by a leading specialist firm of architects;
- Survival of the most important 1930's interiors such as the council chamber, committee rooms and entrance hall;
- A physical manifestation of the attainment of borough status and a significant civic building."
You can download the full copy of English Heritage's report.
Our vision for the historic Town Hall
The old Town Hall occupies less than 20% of the total area of the entire site, with the 1980's extension, prefabricated buildings and car parks occupying over 80%, all of which could be sold off for redevelopment and still provide the Council with a huge amount of money for investing in new accommodation.
The historic building could be put to any number of uses in the future:
- It would be a perfect location for the Slough Museum
- The council chamber, with its original features and beautiful oak panelling, would make an ideal venue for civil ceremonies
- The other rooms in the building could house some of Slough's voluntary services that are struggling to find accommodation elsewhere
If you have any thoughts on what the building could be used for - after all, it belongs to all of us - then let us know at email@example.com.
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