A CAMPAIGN has started to try and preserve the old Wiltshire College site in Chippenham as part of plans to build luxury retirement apartments.

Chippenham Civic Society is leading a fight to keep the redbrick building put up in 1900 in Cocklebury Road and has support from people living in Monkton Park.

The civic society has objected to Wiltshire Council about the planning application on the grounds that the building is part of the town's important architectural heritage.

Developers C2PD are planning to turn the building which originally formed part of the Chippenham Secondary and Technical School Building, into a block of apartments complete with underground car parking.

Geoff Barnett from civic society said: "It is a very important building and it is quite ironic that there is now a focus on apprenticeship schemes and here we are potentially demolishing a building which paved the way for that years ago.

"We think the council should reconsider the planning application and try to persuade the developers to consider preserving the older building and incorporating it into a more sympathetic design.

"We had a meeting with planning officers last week. All we can do now is make representations to the council about our objections at the next meeting.

"It is very difficult now to get buildings of local importance listed nationally now and we tried a few months ago."

The group points to a scheme which turned Swindon's technical college into homes two years ago as a good example of giving an old building new life.

Mr Barrett said: "There are two things in life most people remember: where they are born and where they were educated so hospitals and schools are really important for people's cultural identity and we are demolishing a really important building in that sense."

Residents from the Monkton Park area have also submitted over 40 letters of representation to the plans, which they believe will have a significant impact on the surrounding infrastructure.

They also fear the retirement complex would add further to traffic on Station Hill, and the planning application should be refused until new infrastructure in the form of a second access route has been built.

Laura Graham-May of Ashfield Road wrote: “I strongly object to the demolition of a piece of Chippenham’s rich history to create more unaffordable flats for wealthy people to occupy. Since Chippenham has got rid of much of its beauty and history in the past, I would have thought that lessons would have been learned from those mistakes.

“As a market town, we must preserve or historic buildings and come up with new and inventive ways of breathing life back into them.”

The Museum of London Archaeology, who complied a heritage statement on behalf of the developer, noted that the building had a low significance in the town and that the demolition would offer an oporunity for new high quality development.

A spokesman for planning consultant Turley, who is working with C2PD, said: "As part of the design process C Square Property Developments Ltd carefully considered retaining the existing buildings and the design of the proposed development. It was concluded that these buildings would not be suitable for conversion to extra care housing and would provide compromised housing. 

"The proposed building has been designed in respect of the local heritage features and the character of Chippenham Conservation Area.

"The proposals provide the opportunity to develop a vacant, brownfield site to deliver a new, high quality, independent retirement living scheme in the heart of Chippenham. The proposed development can bring a number of community benefits for future occupants as well as new jobs and facilities for the wider community of Chippenham."