The latest fire at the Great Northern Bonded Warehouse appears to have done major structural damage. The responsibility for this has to be laid at the door of Clowes Developments. I suspect that Clowes may not be covered by insurance as they didn't repair the building after the last fire. This is a highly visible listed historic landmark building. It is identified by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust as one of the 12 historic buildings most at risk in Derbyshire, and in 2017 by the Victorian Society as one the 10 most important Victorian buildings at risk in Great Britain
Charlie Clowes purchased the building in an operational state with tenants working under a watertight roof back in the 1970s. Listed as of special architectural and historic interest in the 1980s Clowes Developments has undertaken no repairs since and watched it fall into decay whilst repeatedly promising the city council that it would creatively re-use the site and buildings. This has variously been for industry, as a supermarket, apartments or latterly a centre of excellence for classic and vintage cars. This last use, proposed by Great Northern Classics Limited, failed to be realised because Clowes developments were unwilling to fund the £2.8m conservation deficit - the minimum repairs required to make good the deterioration that has occurred to the property under their ownership since it was listed. Both the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust and Great Northern Classics have offered to work with Clowes Developments to find a solution to creatively re-utilising the building, but to no avail.
I believe in 2017 Derby City Council were on the cusp of serving an enforcement order on Clowes to force them to roof and properly stabilise and secure the building. However, I understand Clowes Developments persuaded the city that they were ‘looking at viable options'. As far as I can see from the DCC planning register this morning they have not submitted any plans as yet, three years later. After nearly 50 years as a recalcitrant owner having promised many times before and never delivered it is time for them to admit their failure.,
Clowes made £38M PBT last year - up from £29M in 2017 and £31M in 2018. That is to say they are doing very well indeed whilst not accepting their legal responsibility for maintaining a listed building they neglected and let fall into disrepair, and now ruin. There is no longer any good reason why they should not be forced to sort out the mess they have caused through their inaction over the 44 years they have been ‘guardians’ of both the Great Bonded Warehouse and the adjacent engine house, which they have also let fall into disrepair, from a state that was pretty well pristine when they purchased them.
The cost of the conservation deficit will have risen significantly with this last fire. As a company with its roots in Derby and based locally in Derbyshire it is time for Clowes Developments to accept their Civic responsibility, do the honourable thing and donate the whole site of the goods yard to the City Council, together with a dowry toward the cost of building repair. The city council could then develop the site holistically for high density mixed use commercial and residential development including the site of the station, and the arches under, the goods yard and use the profit from development to recoup the cost of creatively reusing the warehouse engine shed and Friargate Bridge.
The Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, The Friargate Bridge Trust and, if appropriate, Great Northern Classics Ltd stand ready to assist the City Council in such an endeavour.
Derek Latham HonDPr Dip Arch RIBA Dip TP MRTPI Dip LD MLI AABC IHBC AoU AHI FRSA
Chair: Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust – Saving our heritage