Demolition starts on 'listed' building: A bureaucratic bungle means a Victorian complex in Kidderminster comprising two schools and a library is to be pulled down. Will Bennett reports

DEMOLITION contractors started work on the old library and schools of art and science in Kidderminster yesterday, thereby beginning the final chapter in a sorry tale of bureaucratic incompetence.

Inside the 6ft-high (1.8 metres) barbed wire fence around the building, which has served the town in Hereford and Worcester for a century, they tore out the windows as local conservationists looked on angrily. When the demolition gangs have finished with the Victorian building, one of the few left in the town centre, it will become a car park until a new library is built on the site.

Earlier this year the library and the two schools, all part of the same complex, were granted Grade II listed status and the committee formed to save them believed the building was safe.

Then it was discovered that in 1988 the Department of the Environment had issued an immunity certificate to the building's owners, Hereford and Worcester County Council and a trust run by Wyre Forest District Council. This prevented the listing of the library and schools for five years. Such certificates ensure that developers can go ahead without fear of suddenly being blocked by a building being listed. Five days after the Kidderminster complex was granted protection it was stripped of its Grade II status.

Yesterday, the Department of National Heritage and English Heritage, which advises the Government on historic buildings, were embarrassed by the bungle which has allowed the county council to go ahead with demolition. A spokesman for the Department of National Heritage said that when the county council applied for the certificate in 1988, the Department of the Environment, then responsible for such matters, asked English Heritage for advice and was told that the building was not worth listing.

But when a local resident asked for it to be listed last year, Department of the Environment officials failed to notice that the certificate had been granted. They asked English Heritage for an opinion again. This time English Heritage said that the building was worth listing and in January Grade II status was granted briefly until the mistake was spotted. Immunity certificates cannot be overturned.

The Department of National Heritage said: 'We made a mistake and they changed their minds. It was our fault though, it was an administrative mistake.'

Andrea Kinghorn, of English Heritage, said: 'I think there is just a greater appreciation of this type of Victorian building now than there was a few years ago.'

Anthony Peers, assistant secretary of the conservation group Save, said: 'It has been proved to be of listed quality. There is obviously a lot of embarrassment at the department about this.'

John Cotterell, chairman of the Save the Old Schools Action Committee, said: 'It is one of a group of Victorian buildings which are the only substantial ones left in the town.'

However, Alec Mackie, the county council, spokesman said: 'We are going ahead because there is nothing to prevent it, and the joint owners have agreed to create a new library for Kidderminster.'

(Photograph omitted)

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