Nottingham’s Ugliest Building
In April 2014, Imperial Tobacco announced the phased closure of its massive cigarette manufacturing, known as ‘Horizon’, on Thane Road in Nottingham, by 2016. Originally built for John Player & Sons in 1971, at a cost of £14 million, Horizon was considered state-of-the-art in its construction at the time but, more recently, has been dubbed Nottingham’s ‘ugliest building’.
However, the Horizon site, which covers 45 acres, could be saved from demolition and redevelopment if Historic England goes ahead with its plan to grant the factory ‘Listed’ status. Grade 1 Listed status is reserved for ‘buildings of exceptional interest’ – including Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron – and, if granted, would prevent the factory from being demolished, extended or altered without express permission.
Horizon is being assessed for what is known as a “spot-listing”, whereby Historic England makes a recommendation to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, but there’s apparently no time limit on the process, so a final decision could take months or years.
The principal argument against the demolition of the Horizon appears to be its historical significance, rather than its aesthetic appeal. As Ian Watts, vice-chairman of the Nottingham Civic Society put it, “Listed status does not necessarily mean it is an attractive building. Sometimes it may have an important place in the history of construction, and this building says something about Nottingham as an industrial city and one of its major industries.”
However, Mr. Watts appears to be missing the point with regard to the benefits of demolishing and replacing unsightly buildings. Not only can new buildings and developments be attractive and efficient, but they can be designed for functionality, so that they don’t need major refurbishments throughout their useful life. Furthermore, new developments can also regenerate an area, injecting new growth and economic wealth once the initial development is complete.
Aesthetics aside, the main problem with retrofitting the existing factory is that it was originally designed, quite specifically, for the production of cigarettes. In fact, in its heyday, 1,000 employees produced 36 billion cigarettes a year at the factory and, even as recently as 2014, 540 employees produced 17 billion cigarettes a year. As such, Horizon is a demanding building to recycle in any meaningful way. Even if a useful way of bringing the factory back to life can be found, the costs of maintaining the retrofitted factory over its useful life need to be compared with the benefits of demolition and building afresh.
Anyone still in doubt about the benefits of demolishing unsightly buildings for future development could do worse than examine the case of York House in Mansfield Road, Nottingham. Formerly a part of Nottingham Trent University, York House had been various described as “not nice to look at”, “pretty ugly” and a “hideous carbuncle”, but was demolished over an eight-month period ending in May 2015, leaving a clean, safe site for future development. The site is part of a proposed extension to the popular and successful Victoria Centre in the future.
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