THE Government could rule on the proposed demolition of Memorial House in Knutsford despite Cheshire East councillors backing the controversial plans.

The council’s Northern Planning Committee voted by nine to three today (Wednesday) to approve McCarthy and Stone’s scheme for 46 retirement apartments on land in Northwich Road.

The scheme would see the demolition of Memorial House, a former cottage hospital built in 1922 as a First World War Memorial, to make way for the apartments.

The committee’s decision will be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit, which has received a request to ‘call in’ the application to the Secretary of State, who has the power to take the decision-making process out of the hands of the local authority and rule on an application himself.

The scheme was recommended for approval by planners because Memorial House was not suitable for conversion, and its loss was considered, on balance, acceptable, subject to conditions regarding the recording of the building, the provision of a memorial garden and the future of the memorial plaques.

McCarthy and Stone has also agreed to make a major contribution to off-site affordable housing.

The campaign to save Memorial House from the bulldozer has been led by Charlotte Peters Rock from Knutsford and District War Memorial Neighbourhood Forum.

Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, was contacted by Charlotte about the demolition plans earlier this year, and wrote to the Secretary of State this week to ask him to call in the application because of the backing for the scheme by Cheshire East planners.

In a letter to Charlotte on Tuesday, Mr Watson said: “It is deeply disappointing that whilst as a country we are commemorating the centenary of the First World War, the local community in Knutsford is having to fight to save its cherished war memorial from demolition.

“There is clearly strong local opposition to the proposal and I hope Cheshire East Council consider their decision on whether to approve the demolition very carefully.

“I believe our nation’s war memorials are a vital link to the past and an important reminder of the sacrifice of our lost forebears.

“We have to do whatever we can to preserve and protect these memorials for future generations.

“This is why I have written to the Secretary of State requesting that he now calls this proposal in for his full consideration before any demolition is allowed to proceed.”

Charlotte read out Mr Watson’s comments at the planning committee, where she told councillors: “This [Memorial House] is a really important building because it is part of our people’s heritage and should not be lost.”

Sarah Morgan, Knutsford’s deputy town clerk, told the meeting: “There is no indication the building, which is in good condition, cannot be retained, modernised and put to an alternative use.

“The applicant has not demonstrated there is no alternative to the building’s demolition.

“The town council does not consider the relocation of the memorial boards to a publicly more accessible space in any way contributes to the justification for the demolition of the building.

“To ensure Knutsford continues to be able to call itself an historic town we must preserve the heritage of the town. The town council does not consider the benefits of this application outweigh the harm caused by the loss of this heritage asset.”

Knutsford resident Debbie Jamison said: “The building is reusable – just not by this applicant.

“The benefits [of the scheme] do not outweigh the harm – total destruction in return for monies which will never be spent because there is no project in Knutsford that the affordable housing money will go into.

“Why have Local and Neighbourhood Plan policy and a specialist heritage and conservation officer if they are going to be ignored? Let’s stop this wrecking ball swinging through Cheshire East.

“People paid for this [Memorial House] with their money and their lives believing it would be a permanent memorial – respect their wishes.”

Cheshire East’s Conservation Officer opposed the scheme, saying there was no indication the building could not be retained and brought up to modern standards and a new use, and the loss of a ‘locally important building’ was not justified.

Cllr Tony Dean, who seconded Cllr Nick Mannion’s motion to support the approval recommendation, said: “The war memorial was paid for by the people of Knutsford and surrounding parishes after the First World War.

“It is very sad that this building is now due to go, but in terms of losing control over what happens to the building that was lost after the Second World War when the NHS nationalised all the hospitals in the UK.

“I regret the fact it is going, but we missed our opportunity decades ago.”

Cllr Mannion, who attended a site visit at Memorial House, said: “Once you get beyond the frontage it’s a real hodge-podge of fairly sad and dilapidated extensions and add-ons.

“It is not listed, and while the frontage is nice it is not unique, and there has been a commitment to maintain the memorial elements of the site and to create a permanent [memorial] garden.”

Cllr Liz Durham said: “The front of it – it’s a very stylish building and very beautiful, but the back of it – what would you do with it as it is? I’m not sure you could do anything with it. It’s not fit for purpose for anything.”

The agent for McCarthy and Stone said there was a critical need for specialised accommodation for older people, and the developers recognised the sensitive nature of the site.

The scheme would provide a sympathetically-designed replacement building, he said, the protected trees would be retained and a memorial garden would be created along the Northwich Road frontage.