Concerns that parts of historic Tonbridge could be lost forever have been raised again following plans to demolish a property linked to author Jane Austen’s family.
Residents have vented their frustration on social media over the case of 180 High Street. Warners solicitors’ practice was formerly based at the now derelict Georgian property, which is more than 200 years old.
Despite a campaign to save the building, believed to have been home to Henry Austen, a cousin of Jane Austen’s father, George, who also lived nearby, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council finally approved its demolition last summer after a planning saga lasting years.
The fact the property was not listed was flagged-up by inspectors as one of the main reasons there were no grounds for it to be preserved.
Redevelopment plans from the site’s owners, Deacon Properties, were initially rejected on the basis its proposals were ‘too contemporary’, in style. But a revised application promised a more acceptable Georgian-inspired building.
Consent was finally given to redevelop the site in 2012 – but it was later reported that developers were not in a position to deliver the proposed 12-flat scheme, and sought a three-year extension.
However, more than a year after the company’s request was granted, the property, which appears in an official Kent County Council guide to Tonbridge’s historic connections to Jane Austen, still stands on the site in a neglected state, covered in graffiti-and with many windows smashed.
The front garden, which features a distinctive Magnolia tree and sits within a Conservation area, is also lying overgrown.
Resident Patricia Robynns, who runs the Tonbridge People Town and Ancestry history blog, felt the decision to bulldoze the historic property should be re-examined.
She said: “I am appalled that the demolition of this building has been approved.
“The façade may have been changed to a different style, but the inside is a Georgian property. It is a part of the old town of Tonbridge that will be lost.
“It also has a personal connection, with my father and his family being lodgers there in the 1920s, and there was a massive reaction from people here when this was approved by the council’s planning committee.”
Suzannah Niklas, who started a petition to preserve 180 High Street, said it was a ‘shameful’ issue that the historic property had been allowed to rot rather than be preserved as a tourism asset.
Nick Hales, Director of Deacon Properties, explained the firm intended to go ahead with its approved redevelopment, as the existing property was considered not worthy of retaining by borough planners.
He said: “We are in discussion with the neighbouring property, which has now gained planning permission for a new access road at the rear of the property.
“This was of particular concern to the Slade Area Residents Association as it would not be possible to close the High Street during our own construction work.
“So we have tried to be ‘the good guys’ over this, and are waiting for the new road to be completed before we start,” added the developer, who confirmed the new development would have a Georgian-influenced design.