Bulldozers destroyed the old Toby Tavern Bar and Grill, a 300-year old Grade II Listed building in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, on Saturday. It had been subject last year of a planning bid to become offices, a kitchen and bistro and multi-use space on the first floor in a proposed extra-care living building.
But since then, the police and fire service launched an investigation into a suspected arson, which ruined the building in March.
Fire crews battled through the night on March 4, reports Lancs Live. The huge blaze destroyed the former bar’s windows, roof and large parts of the walls.
And the sudden demolition, believed to have been carried out without due permission, has saddened the community further.
Councillor James Upjohn, independent councillor for Ashurst, who had been in discussion since the blaze with Historic England and planning and conservation officers at West Lancashire Borough Council, said: “It’s both frustrating and saddening to see that The Old Toby has been flattened today.
“Residents of Skelmersdale are appalled by the complete demolition of The Skelmersdale Hall… It has been completely flattened.”
An email to Councillor Upjohn from the council’s chief planning officer, which Cllr Upjohn published on social media, warned the demolition of the building was “unauthorised” and that “any works to a listed building without the necessary consent is a criminal offence.”
The email, which says that planners are “dismayed and disappointed”, states: “The Old Toby was to be partially rebuilt and repaired and we had been in discussions with the developer to achieve this. Our view on inspecting the site following fire damage was that the Grade II listed building was capable of being saved.
“The demolition is of the building is unauthorised and any works to a listed building without the necessary consent is a criminal offence under planning legislation..”
The email goes on to state: “We are dismayed and disappointed that the developer has undertaken this course of action and are in discussion regarding the next course of action to be taken.”
The original proposals, put forward last year by Cheshire-based applicant SEP Construction Services Ltd, included a new building containing 60 apartments split across the ground, first and second floors, a communal lounge for residents, a salon, a guest suite and a staff room. Detailed documents submitted as part of the proposals also included an application for listed building consent.
But documents submitted with the application at the time had warned of the risks of structural defects and the threat of vandalism, and a heritage report had highlighted the historic nature of the former Skelmersdale Hall, dating from 1712. They said the building had been extended and altered, with its rural setting having been absorbed by the new town and had been last used as a public house before being abandoned.
The proposals were withdrawn after the fire in March.
Agents Grimster Planning Ltd, who had been acting on behalf of applicant SEP Construction Services Ltd who withdrew their planning application in March,were contacted for comment. West Lancashire Borough Council itself was contacted for comment by Lancs Live.
Lancashire Police said an investigation into the fire in March was still ongoing.