Under-threat British Sugar offices - an architectural gem that needs preserving

The British Sugar offices on Oundle Road
The British Sugar offices on Oundle Road

Peterborough is in danger of losing an architectural gem, one of the area’s most sophisticated buildings of the late 20 th century, should a proposed food store and residential development get the go-ahead (write Toby Wood and Kem Mehmed of Peterborough Civic Society.

The British Sugar Corporation’s European headquarters office and research centre on Oundle Road is to make way for a 20,000 square foot supermarket and seventy-four houses currently submitted for planning approval with the city council.

The existing building dates from 1971 and was originally part of the site of the sugar beet factory which ceased production in 1991. We all miss the sight of the single tall chimney with its plume of steam and pungent aroma. There is nothing left of the factory 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 steam 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.

The BSC office was designed by Arup Associates, world leaders in urban design and winner of many architectural awards, one of which was achieved for this building. It is of minimalist modern character composed of a smoked glass and bronze steel frame cube with a two-storey range of brick clad offices completing the Oundle Road frontage. It makes a memorable and unique focal point on the entrance to a popular and attractive residential enclave.

The Civic Society is seeking the advice and support of the Twentieth Century Society in resisting the demolition of this landmark and will be objecting to the granting of planning permission for the food store. This will be added to objections of local residents and city councillors on grounds of traffic generation and detrimental impact on other stores in the west of the city.

The Civic Society keeps a close eye on any new developments and we do this by scrutinising and commenting on planning applications. We also look to work with the city council whose job is being made increasingly difficult by diminishing funds and ever-increasing pressure on services.

But, what some people don’t realise, is that we are also concerned about those sometimes small, yet very real, annoyances which determine the quality of life in our city and its neighbourhoods. I’m afraid the list of frustrations is quite long – fly-tipping, overgrown cycleway and grass verges, illegal parking, empty shop units, maintenance of roads and footpaths and so on! We are certain that readers could easily add to the list!

There are many local councillors who spend much time trying to clean and smarten neighbourhoods. With local elections coming up on May 3 it is imperative that we elect councillors who are concerned about promoting their wards and the city in general. Local elections are usually notorious for having low turnouts, so it is up to us voters to elect people who can not only promise improvements, but also demonstrate the skills and ability to deliver them! Don’t forget to vote!

In our last column we commented on the warehouse proposal at Gateway, Peterborough. The application for a 40m tall building has been withdrawn.