Save ‘giant caterpillar’ from the bulldozers

12-484   The old Royal Mail sorting office, Hemel Hempstead.
12-484 The old Royal Mail sorting office, Hemel Hempstead.

A GROUP devoted to preserving important architecture is battling plans to demolish the former Royal Mail building in Hemel Hempstead.

The Twentieth Century Society says the Park Lane building has been compared to ‘a giant caterpillar crawling up the hill’ and must not be knocked down.

The society is calling on planning chiefs at Dacorum Borough Council to step in the stop the site being turned into 85 homes by housing association Hightown.

Senior conservation adviser Christina Malathouni says in a letter: “In addition to environmental concerns, considering the buildings’ age, the society strongly believes this is a complex of special architectural interest. What is more, inherent in its design is a high degree of adaptability, therefore we believe that alternative uses should be explored rather than replacement.”

She says the depot was designed and built by the architectural firm Aldington, Craig and Collinge between 1983 and 1985, adding: “Most recognisable by its shaped roof of corrugated steel with a white plastic coating of the principal shed, folded over the series of welded tubular-steel space-frame trusses, the Mechanised Letter Office was compared by fellow architect John Winter to ‘a giant caterpillar crawling up the hill or, seen from the top, an early reptile with a long neck and drooping head’.”

Mark Gaynor, director of housing and regeneration at the council, said: “We are expecting a planning application to be submitted shortly, at which time the variety of issues that arise from the proposals will be considered.”

Hightown’s Emma Crump said: “We have already invited local residents to comment on preliminary designs for the site, which include flats and houses for both rent and ownership.

“There is strong demand in Hemel Hempstead for affordable housing for local people.”