Clash over house flats project

Julie Hemmings A YORK house once home to the founder of the city's university is likely to be demolished to make way for flats. Developer Barratt wants to build 22 flats on the site of Burton Croft in Burton Stone Lane, where John Bowes Morrell used to live.

.Planners had asked the company to think again about its proposals –but were told that incorporating the existing Victorian house and outbuildings in the redevelopment was not an option.

The company said the internal layout, with "large rooms and substantial stairs" made it unsuitable for conversion into flats.

As well as founding the university Dr Morrell also set up York Conservation Trust, which has been campaigning to have Burton Croft listed and protected.

Since July last year the trust has been trying to buy the house.

However, three applications to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for listed status for the house – which lies just outside Clifton conservation area – have been rejected.

Trust property manager Richard Brown said it was disappointing the Department did not acknowledge the status of Dr Morrell, saying he was not a nationally recognised figure when the university he founded enjoyed a national and international reputation.

The property was used most recently as a residential home for elderly people, but since its closure has been vandalised. The house is now patrolled by security guards to stop squatters breaking in again.

Burton Croft was not judged to be worthy of listing on architectural merit – the council's conservation architect describes it as "mid-19th century, typical although unexceptional suburban design".

Responsibility for listing buildings of architectural or historical merit is about to change but the new system will not come into force before 2007.

In the meantime York Council has no powers to list buildings and development control officer Patrick Sutor said it would be 'unreasonable' in planning terms to defer the planning application for a period of some years until the new system was in force.

A month ago city councillors deferred a decision on Burton Croft, but when they meet next week they will be advised to back the scheme, despite local opposition.

Councillors rejected earlier plans by the developer – for 24 flats to a different design – despite being advised by officials to grant permission.

Barratt appealed against the refusal and these plans were due to go before a public inquiry in September.

The company has declined to comment.