Despite calls from heritage campaigners to preserve the “iconic” London Road building, First Bus has pushed ahead with plans that could see the facility operational by the middle of 2025.
Although it has permission to clear the site, the company has yet to finalise plans for the depot, prompting claims it is “rushing” ahead with demolitions to avoid any potential challenges.
“It’s very disappointing that neither the city council nor Historic England have taken any steps to protect this building which is an increasingly rare example of 20th century architecture,” Celia Clark, of the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, said urging the whole building be preserved. “Unfortunately they’ve absolved themselves of their duties.
“We need First Bus to engage with us and set out steps to preserve and make use of that building rather than demolishing it.”
Concerns have also been raised by the Twentieth Century Society which said the building “innovative” concrete construction and panels designed by William Mitchell needed to be protected.
The demolition of the building was approved by the council last month which said this was allowed under permitted development rules and said it was not possible to consider any heritage “merits” as part of this.
Hilsea councillor Russell Simpson, who is leading opposition to the building’s demolition, said he believed they had “run out of options” to prevent the demolition taking place but urged First Bus to improve its engagement and address people’s concerns.
“As councillors we have had one meeting with the company and that’s it,” he said. “We were promised a meeting on-site but this was cancelled and we’ve heard nothing at all since.
“Unfortunately it seems they are rushing on with the demolition in the hope that it will make people more open to their planning application [for the depot] once it comes through, but I can tell them now that that won’t be the case and people will finally get a chance to have their say and not be ignored.”
He said he hoped First was keep key features of the building, including its facade, to ensure “at least some of our important post-war buildings are preserved”.
Simon Goff, the managing director of First Bus South, previously said it was “unviable” to keep the building as it is but that the company would preserve some historic parts of it.
“There are very specific requirements for a project of this kind, and there was no evidence of the News Centre building being listed or targeted for preservation, which supported our desire to purchase the site,” he said. “The former News Centre has been empty for some time now and is in a state of disrepair, which has become a magnet for vandalism and antisocial behaviour.”
A spokesman for the company confirmed “some” demolition was now underway.
They added: “Redevelopment is not anticipated to start until mid-2024 with a completion expected mid-2025. We are assessing to see if the William Mitchell panels can be removed for re-use or donation.”