Residents fight to save fire-damaged cottage

NEIGHBOURS and a former tenant are rallying to prevent a fire-damaged listed cottage in Westfield from being demolished and replaced with two new houses.

People who live near Dormer Cottage and the woman who persuaded Historic England to list the building, protecting its distinctive architecture, are objecting to a new planning application for the site.

Dormer Cottage when it was a family home

The house in Bonsey Lane was badly damaged by fire at the end of November, after being unoccupied for more than four years. It was given Grade II protection in 2017 due to the efforts of Jodie Barrett, whose family was the last to live there.

She agrees with Westfield Residents’ Association that the unoccupied house – which was sold for £660,000 shortly after her family moved –  was fated to be set on fire.

Association chairman Geoffrey Pugh has sent a comment on behalf of the organisation: “There is unanimity of viewpoint that the fire that ravaged lovely Dormer Cottage was a tragedy but an inevitability following its wanton and wilful neglect whilst it was left empty,” he wrote.

Mr Pugh, who lives next door to Dormer Cottage, added that the house had been frequently broken into and vandalised, occupied by squatters and had been used by people taking drugs.

Jodie lived in the house for around four years and later spent several months compiling a dossier for Historic England on reasons why it should be listed. This means it is protected from being demolished without special permission from Woking Borough Council.

“I just don’t think it’s necessary to demolish the cottage, as only the top half has been badly damaged and it can be rebuilt,” said Jodie.

“The developer has used the excuse that housing is needed in the Green Belt but that’s not true in that area. There is a monster new block of flats not far away in Westfield Road, for instance.

The cottage after it was damaged by fire last November

Jodie previously said her family had an “incredible life” in the cottage, which was on one of 10 houses built in Bonsey Lane in around 1927 by prolific Woking developer Evelyn Ricks. “It had a spirit about it and it was like living in a museum,” she said.

Mr Pugh and his wife Helen have also lodged objections in their personal capacities with the other next-door neighbour, Brian Dobson, to several aspects of the application to build two four-bedroom houses side by side on the land. They have concerns about loss of privacy, light and outlook caused by new properties that would be taller than their homes.

The residents’ association letter to the council said some members believe demolition should not be allowed. The cottage “should be properly restored, both as more fitting to the neighbourhood and as an example to speculative developers of how not to proceed”.

But the letter also said that most members are more pragmatic and consider what has become a major eyesore should be demolished and the land redeveloped.

The latest application has been made by FORM Architecture and Planning, of Hersham, which says the council gave permission for a similar redevelopment in 2016. The application was withdrawn after the Grade II listing was confirmed by a Government review.

FORM’s application says the cottage does not meet the criteria for special national architectural or historic interest for its reconstruction to be considered, and it would not be financially viable to restore it. Replacing it with new houses will in the public interest because of the housing shortage in the Green Belt.

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