WORCESTER'S £11 million 'cultural quarter' plans have been dramatically watered down - with a controversial alternative vision under fire from heritage watchdogs.

Investors behind an overhaul of the Royal Worcester Porcelain site have decided to revise their grand plans due to the costs, including abandoning proposals for a huge 75-foot high viewing tower looking across the city.

But the "plan B" costing just £3 million has ran into angry opposition as it includes bulldozing across swathes of the historic site to demolish eight different buildings in the Conservation Area.

Now organisations like Save Britain's Heritage, The Georgian Group and Historic England have waded in to try and save most of the site ahead of a crunch decision on Thursday.

Most of the buildings date back to the 19th century, with Save Britain's Heritage saying it will cause "great harm" to Worcester and calling it "too destructive".

The Georgian Group has described it as "extremely disappointing" while The Council for British Archaeology has also objected, claiming "the level of demolition is not justified" and will "harm" the conservation zone.

Your Worcester News can reveal how the fresh plan has slowly been revised over the last year after city philanthropist Colin Kinnear, from the Bransford Trust, decided the old £11 million scheme was unaffordable.

His alternative proposal, done in conjunction with Worcester Live, relies on demolishing the site's unlisted structures and building 10 townhouses or apartments to help offset some of the bill.

The main Grade II listed showroom would become a flexible events venue seating 150 people for cultural endeavours like live music, arts exhibitions, book launches and as a meeting place, with a restaurant and cafe.

The old plans included three open courtyards, the massive viewing tower and units for cafes, eateries and workshops in a more expansive quarter to draw tourists in.

A meeting of Worcester City Council's planning committee is taking place on Thursday to vote on the new version, where it is being recommended to back the scheme.

But it has divided opinion, with even members of Worcester Civic Society having split views.

Nevill Swanson, from the society, has called it "the destruction of the porcelain works", while one of his colleagues Mike Sumpner has written the city council a letter supporting it.

Carl Jukes, a Worcester-based conservation consultant who used to work at the city council, has fiercely attacked it as "wanton vandalism".

"This is a watered down version of the 2014 scheme which retained most of the buildings and included workshops for the likes of potters, tilers and sculptors," he said.

"The idea this is still a 'cultural quarter' is a misnomer, it's a residential site with the only aspect of the arts set to be in that listed building, and the rest pulled down.

"I am completely against this."

Chris Jaeger, from Worcester Live, which runs The Swan Theatre and Huntington Hall, said the new vision desperately needs supporting.

"We've spent over a year negotiating with the council on this and what we've got is a venue which will wash its own face," he said.

"I am really positive because I think this is sustainable and will work - if this fails and the council says no, there is no alternative."


COUNCILLORS in Worcester are being recommended to nod through the new plans or face the risk of the porcelain works site falling into more disrepair.

Philanthropist Colin Kinnear, from the Bransford Trust, secured planning permission for his old scheme in April 2014 but not a single spade has gone into the ground, mainly because it was too ambitious.

The report for Thursday's council meeting says the £11 million cultural quarter would only have generated around £3 million in return, making it a seriously expensive endeavour.

It calls that bill "an unsustainable commitment for the Bransford Trust", leading to the new version being suggested.

Under the alternative plan, seven four-bed townhouses and three two-bed apartments would be built, keeping the Severn Street frontage intact but leading to the demolition of the eight unlisted buildings within the site.

That would help offset some of the new costs of £3 million by knocking off £550,000, with the trust saying it can meet the remaining £2.45 million bill.

The report by planning officer Nick Kay admits the proposal is "clearly contentious", saying over the last year the authority has challenged the investors hard and examined every single alternative option.

It also points to the Swan Theatre and Huntington Hall being able to seat either 350 or 58 people, saying the new venue will offer seating for 150 visitors, filling an important gap in the market.

It says: "The proposal has been developed following the realisation by the applicants that the original proposal is undeliverable due to it being unviable."

It calls the fresh plan "commercially sustainable", saying it will feature "a cultural venue that features the site's listed building at its heart".

The city's Conservation Areas Advisory Committee has objected but the Dean of Worcester, the Rev Peter Atkinson is supporting it, saying it will be "good for the Cathedral, the Porcelain Museum, and the Commandery".

Back in November a detailed briefing on the changes took place with councillors behind closed doors, winning many of them over.

Berkeley Homes, which is developing much of the rest of the site, also wants planning permission for an extra 10 properties to be given the nod tomorrow having submitted its own planning application.

* To see the 77-page report for the attention of councillors click HERE.

* A comprehensive list of the feedback, including lots of public comments can be seen via THIS link.