A lifeline for Peterborough landmark

A proposed housing development and Lidl supermarket on the former British Sugar Company (BSC) HQ site, Oundle Road has been refused by city councillors. This gives a stay of execution for one of the rare examples of attractive modern architecture in Peterborough, writes Ken Mehmed, of Peterborough Civic Society.

Saturday, 19th January 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:55 pm
Exterior pix of British Sugar offices at Oundle Road, Woodston. ENGEMN00120120907121448

I am referring to the glass box which sits on the corner of Oundle Road and Sugar Way. It dates from 1971 and was originally part of the iconic and aromatic sugar beet processing factory which ceased production in 1991. There is nothing left of the factory itself apart from some settling beds at the foot of the slope down to the River Nene.

Peterborough celebrates its history and cherishes evidence of life from the Bronze Age to its New Town status. However this care for the past does not seem to stretch to a regard for working buildings such as factories, warehouses and offices.

Apart from a few early railway era sheds and the odd mill or two there is not much evidence of what Peterborough people did with their working lives through the centuries. Not a single brick kiln or chimney remains standing in the city limits.

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The BSC office was designed by Arup Associates, world leaders in urban design and winners of many architectural awards, one of which was achieved for this building in 1975. The body which seeks to protect the nation’s twentieth century architectural heritage, the 20 th Century Society has been in touch. They say: “The design featured the most up-to-date environmental technology, using a double skin which fulfilled the brief for noise reduction and also featured a buffer against external temperature change. The waste air was re-circulated in the space to assist this and to prevent condensation during the heating season, a pioneering approach experimented with as a prototype for the contemporary IBM building in Johannesburg, also designed by Arups.

The design won a commendation in the 1975 RIBA regional awards, the judges concluding that ‘the architects’ masterly control is everywhere in evidence. All the elements making up this building are skilfully integrated to a degree of precision which is difficult to achieve without the resources of a multi-disciplinary organisation. Externally the building is appropriately eye-catching and attractively landscaped.”

The 20th Century Society therefore considers this building to be of considerable interest for its innovation and design and that its destruction would be a great loss to Peterborough’s twentieth century architectural heritage.’

Buildings of this type are adaptable to alternative uses and to good effect. There is no adequate reason to doubt that the building remains fit for purpose, and could therefore be re-purposed. It would be possible to retain the glass box and hexagonal foyer block and still leave room to build the supermarket much as set out in the developer’s own plans. The retained buildings could be used for offices or subdivided internally as ‘start-up’ business units. Community uses, should a need arise in the neighbourhood, might also be considered (see our illustrated drawing).

The Civic Society is investigating the possibility of getting Listed Building protection but without the support of public opinion to add to that of the experts we should not build up our hopes.

Please let us know how you feel and we will do our best to see that this local landmark lives on.