Plan to convert WW2 gas decontamination centre into cafe-bar and build rooftop spa jacuzzi rejected

Plans to convert one of Britain’s last surviving World War Two gas decontamination centres into a cafe-bar has been rejected.
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Developers also wanted to build a gym, offices and spa with a rooftop jacuzzi next to the listed building in Horbury, Wakefield.

Council planning officers have turned down the project as it would “fail to preserve the special historic interest” of the structure.

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Local councillors, heritage groups and more than 50 residents objected to plans by Bootland Property for a major revamp of Horbury Business Complex.

Developers also wanted to build a gym, offices and spa with a rooftop jacuzzi next to the listed building in Horbury.Developers also wanted to build a gym, offices and spa with a rooftop jacuzzi next to the listed building in Horbury.
Developers also wanted to build a gym, offices and spa with a rooftop jacuzzi next to the listed building in Horbury.

The site, next to the town’s library and town hall, contains one of the last remaining wartime civilian gas decontamination centres.

The red-brick building was constructed in 1939 and is described as a rare surviving example of its type.

It was given a Grade II listing in 2019 following a campaign by local historians.

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Historic England describe the structure as a “as a tangible reminder of the threat of chemical warfare and the dangers faced by Britain’s civilian population.”

UK Ministry of Home Security posterUK Ministry of Home Security poster
UK Ministry of Home Security poster

Proposals included converting the building into a ‘war themed’ cafe-bar on the ground floor and adding a glass structure to the roof to create office space.

It was also suggested that Ministry of Home Security posters from the era could be displayed on the walls of the new facility.

A heritage statement submitted on behalf of the developer said: “The gas decontamination centre is such a unique building with a unique history, it could easily become part of the destination and appeal of the cafe-bar use, for both locals and visitors.”

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Plans also included a new three-storey building to contain a gym, offices and spa with a rooftop pool.

Interior image of Horbury gas decontamination centre. Image: Architecture 1BInterior image of Horbury gas decontamination centre. Image: Architecture 1B
Interior image of Horbury gas decontamination centre. Image: Architecture 1B

Permission was also sought to convert three light industrial units, originally built in the early 1900s as a mortuary and stables, into offices.

Two new homes were also planned for the site.

Horbury Heritage Trust, Horbury Civic Society, Friends of Horbury Library and local councillors were among 57 objectors.

Those against the plans said the decontamination centre should be “preserved for educational benefits.”

Plans to convert one of Britain's last surviving World War Two gas decontamination centres into a cafe-bar has been rejected.Plans to convert one of Britain's last surviving World War Two gas decontamination centres into a cafe-bar has been rejected.
Plans to convert one of Britain's last surviving World War Two gas decontamination centres into a cafe-bar has been rejected.
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Concerns were also raised over a loss of privacy, loss of parking spaces for the library and an increase in traffic.

One objector wrote: “I do not think the proposed development is appropriate for the heritage location.

“It will have major impact on local residents with noise from the the open-air pool, cafe-bar and parking and traffic problems.

“It will set a bad precedent if assets listed by Wakefield Council as buildings of local interest are not protected.

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“I fear that the business will not survive given current economic and environmental factors.

“I suspect Horbury will be left with a group of derelict eyesores.”

The scheme received one letter of support from a resident who said the proposals would be a good use of the site.

Officers also refused the application on highways grounds due to a shortage of parking spaces near to the site.

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Gas decontamination centres, also known as cleansing stations, were built in civilian and military areas to provide reassurance and protection in the event of a gas attack.

The use of gas in war was outlawed under the Geneva Gas Protocol of 1925, of which both Britain and Germany were signatories, although this did not include its production and development.

Aware that such agreements could sometimes be broken during hostilities, the British government developed gas weapons and ways to protect against their use.

Regulated by air raid precaution Wardens and civil police, they provided an area where casualties could be decontaminated and receive first aid treatment.

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The building in Horbury is described by Historic England is one of the best preserved purpose-built centres of its kind in the country.

It was listed following a campaign by local historian Christine Cudworth.

Speaking in 2019, she said: “Having lived in Horbury since 1958, I have been aware of the decontamination unit for a long time.

“But I only found out what it actually was in the 1990s, when I started interviewing people about their experiences during the Second World War and recording their memories.

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“It was built in 1939, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, as it was widely thought that the Germans would use gas.

“I think some older members of the community know about it but most of the general public probably don’t.”

The building in Horbury would likely have had an undressing area, shower and eye cleansing area, drying space and dressing room with benches and lockers.