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Victorian Society slams ‘damaging’ plans to change the Harris

Posted on - 7th January, 2021 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - History, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
The Harris and the Flag Market in Preston Pic: Tony Worrall
The Harris and the Flag Market in Preston Pic: Tony Worrall

The Victorian Society is calling for Preston City Council to refuse plans to alter the Harris, which it says is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the country.

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Councillors are set to discuss the proposals – which have been recommended for approval – at planning committee today (Thursday 7 January).

Speaking about the plans for the £10.7m renovation project ‘Reimagining the Harris’, Tom Taylor, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society, said: “The Victorian Society objects in the strongest possible terms to these proposals. The Harris Museum is an incredibly important building, amongst the finest Greek Revival buildings in Europe.

“We must tread very carefully when altering a building of such architectural significance, and these proposals do not adequately take into account the special architectural qualities of this magnificent building. Preston City Council must do more to understand and protect Preston’s historic environment.

“We urge the council to seek revisions to these damaging plans.”

Read more: ‘Preserve a Victorian gem’ to ‘it will attract more visitors’ – how city responded to Harris Museum design concepts

The Grade I-listed Harris was built in 1883 to the designs of local architect and former mayor of Preston, James Hibbert, who built many buildings in the city, including the Grade II-listed Fishergate Baptist Church (1858).

While The Victorian Society said it does not object to the principle of the renovations, it questions whether the current proposals are the best way of achieving them.

Architectural model of the proposed changes to the Harris Pic: Buttress Architects Ltd
Architectural model of the proposed changes to the Harris Pic: Buttress Architects Ltd

A spokesperson for the Victorian Society said: “The applicants have shown great concern for the interiors of the building, but have failed to apply the same care to the exteriors, where the proposed changes will cause significant harm to the building’s architectural character.

“Great civic buildings such as the Harris Museum are important not just for their function or contents, but as public works in their own right and the role they play in shaping place and local identity.”

Read more: Harris museum releases updated design plans to reassure concerned Prestonians

Two changes in particular are a cause for ‘major concern’ for the Victorian Society.

The spokesperson said: “Firstly, a new ‘circulation core,’ will alter the building’s exterior to provide a new staircase and lift, giving level access to all floors. Although bringing important benefits, the intervention will be highly damaging to the building’s architecture.

“An extremely important aspect of the Harris Museum’s design is four high-level loggias. These are vital for the symmetry and balance of the building and the way they manage the play of solid and void.

“The new circulation core will infill one of the loggias, gravely compromising the building’s architectural value. This infilling will be the first substantial and highly visible alteration made to the building’s exterior since its construction.”

Read more: New £150,000 children’s space being created in The Harris

The Victorian Society says there are other locations that could be considered, and even questions whether the circulation core is necessary, as it not required to comply with building regulations or fire safety.

The Victorian Society’s second major concern is alterations to the Lancaster Road entrance to widen an original bridge over the basement and remove a pair of decorative gates and stone parapets.

“These historic gates are an important part of the scheme of decorative ironwork which is characteristic of the Harris. Their removal will erode an important aspect of the building’s design yet no benefits are gained, as the entrance itself will remain its current width.”

The Victorian Society has also commented on the “poor quality” of the plans.

“The application documents entirely fail to adequately articulate the architectural significance of the building. The assessment of ‘architectural and artistic significance’ is limited to just 152 words, which mostly offer only vague generalisations about classicism and Victorian civic ideals, with none spent on detailed architectural analysis.”

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What do you think of the Victorian Society’s objections? Let us know in the comments.

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