A Victorian villa in central Watford has been saved from being demolished and turned into “an oppressive and monolithic” office and flats development.

Watford Borough Council’s development control committee rejected advice from planners and threw out proposals to redevelop the former registry office at 36 Clarendon Road last night.

The decision came after residents and politicians in the area complained the new development would overshadow nearby homes and result in the loss of part of the town’s architectural heritage.

The applicants, Hertfordshire County Council, which owns the building and V Fund (Watford) Ltd, had wanted to turn the building into new offices with 36 flats.

The development would have provided seven studio flats, 14 one-bed and 15 two-bed. Plans showed the development would have 19 parking spaces for the office and 24 spaces for the flats.

The office element at the front would be five storeys high while the flats at the rear would reach as high as seven storeys.

Planning offices recommended the committee approve the plans adding that “the building itself is not of any significant merit due to its limited architectural and historic interest.”

At the meeting John Berrisford, from nearby Gartlet Road, addressed the committee and raised concerns that the large structure would overshadow homes in the road.

Commenting on the design, he said: “It creates an oppressive and monolithic building, totally alien to the area.”

Helen Lynch, a Liberal Democrat councillor for the area, also spoke in opposition to the plans saying the building, which had been built as a villa for the town’s MP in 1865, was an important part of Watford’s architectural heritage.

She added the building had also been earmarked as one of two potential sites for a new Church of England free school, planned for the area.

However councillors were told they should set aside the school issue as it was not a proper planning consideration.

Douglas Bond, speaking on behalf of the applicants, said the building would provide Clarendon Road with “high quality” office space, which accorded with the council’s plans for the area.

He said the applicants had also made a number of amendments to the scheme at the request of borough planners, such as making 35 per cent of the flats affordable.

During the ensuing debate a number of councillors on the development control panel expressed concern about the proposed loss the building.

Watford Observer:

Plans for new development.

Nigel Bell, a Labour councillor for Holywell, said: “From a Watford point of view this is a historic building and maybe there is something that can be done to save it and put it to some use?”

Only one councillor expressed support for the scheme, Mark Watkin, a Liberal Democrat for Nascot.

He said the design made a good transition between the office space at the front and flats at the rear, unlike similar developments in Beechen Grove.

Councillor Watkin added: “In my mind this will be a net gain to the community Watford”.

However, Councillor Iain Sharpe, a Liberal Democrat for Oxhey, put forward a motion to reject the application, criticising the bulk and design of the development.

He added: “I think we can do better. I would be tempted to turn this down on the grounds of bulk and scale and that the development will have detrimental effect on the conservation area.”

The committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion with only Councillor Watkin voting against.