Locals flock together to save the bell tower of ‘historic’ listed building

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Bromley locals have flocked together to save the bell tower of a ‘historic’ listed building from being demolished.

The council has stepped in to delay plans to knock down the bell tower cupola of Community House in Bromley town centre.

The building sits on South Street in the town centre and was the former magistrates court for the area. Community House reportedly dates back to 1939 and is now used as a community centre to host local groups. Peter Martin, vice-chair of the Bromley Civic Society, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that plans to knock down the bell tower on the building broke on May 2.

He said: “We were alerted to the fact that the new owners of Community House were proposing to knock down the tower on the top of the building, the bell tower cupola. They were proposing to knock it down that Saturday [May 4].”

Mr Martin said the council’s planning department then took measures to prevent the tower’s demolition and a Building Preservation Notice was put up on the front door. He said the building was constructed alongside the former town hall to form a municipal complex in the town centre.

He added: “This is one of those distinctive features of Bromley, so it would be really sad to see it go. People were very upset when they heard that it was likely to be removed.”

Lib Dem Councillor Sam Webber, representing the Bromley town ward, said he was grateful to the Civic Society for their assistance on the issue, as well as the council’s planning and enforcement team for serving the notice. He added that the bell tower on the building had previously been subject to safety concerns which led to it being surrounded by scaffolding.

He told the LDRS: “The local councillors, as well as I’m sure the tenants, Bromley Voluntary Sector Trust (BVST), would want to work with the new owners, Deco Design and Build, to secure a sustainable future for the building… We want to move forward together and secure the building, make it safe and absolutely protect that bell tower if at all possible.”

Community House was purchased by Deco Investments Limited after the authority agreed in December 2022 to put several council-owned buildings up for sale to avoid a reported £164 million maintenance bill. Peter Ayres is the chair of BVST, which was set up to manage Community House in its role of hosting several charities from across the borough.

Mr Ayres told the LDRS: “The current priority of BVST is to work with our landlords, Deco Design and Build, to protect and secure the future of Community House, which is a historically important building in Bromley town centre. We want to make sure that the building continues to be available as a resource for the local community and a home for charities and voluntary organisations, both large and small.”

A Deco Investments Limited spokesperson told the LDRS: “Deco Investments Limited purchased the site in the knowledge that Bromley Council were intending to remove the cupola.”

They added: “It is in an extremely poor state of repair and is considered dangerous, hence the need to have full scaffolding supporting the entire cupola. It is our intention that the cupola does not pose a safety risk to the public and we are seeking further discussions with the council on this matter.”

Conservative Councillor Colin Smith, leader of Bromley Council, told the LDRS that it was untrue that the council had intended to solely remove the tower from the building. He said that the authority instead planned to detach the tower for the purposes of restoring it and to then replace it. He said scaffolding had been placed around the tower to protect it before the new owners had purchased the building.

He added: “We have issued a Building Preservation Notice, with this action designed to give additional protection to Community House and the cupola bell tower in particular, which is already a locally listed building in the conservation area. Whilst the preservation notice is in effect, changes or proposed works to the Community House building need consent, with national listing also being applied for.”

Picture 1: Community House in Bromley, located on South Street. Credit: Joe Coughlan

Picture 2: The scaffolding shown on the Community House building was added to support the bell tower. Credit: Cllr Sam Webber


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