Town council backing panel over tea rooms

belper tea rooms design.
belper tea rooms design.

BELPER Town Council says it is supporting a panel’s decision for a re-design of the Swiss Tea Rooms because its judges had “infinitesimally” more information than the public.

The panel favoured the design by McNeill Beechey O’Neil, and its recommendations will be considered by Amber Valley Borough Council, along with the results of a public poll, on Wednesday, September 28, to determine which of six shortlisted designs is picked for the new tea rooms in Belper’s River Gardens.

The town council voted to support the decision taken by the panel, which includes borough and town councillors Alan Cox and Martin Tomlinson, and the director of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Partnership Mark Suggitt.

Cllr Cox, who is also Mayor of Belper, said: “When the public voted on the design they only had one design to look at. The panel had a lot more and they had presentations, and a question and answer session. They had infinitesimally more information. The panel spent all day looking at it and we feel that the panel views should be respected.”

The town council decision was not unanimous and was “split along party lines”.

The Friends of Belper River Gardens hailed a proposal from architects Lathams, which topped the public poll, as “more likely to be commercially successful” and “significantly cheaper to build” than other candidates’ proposals.

Chairman of the Friends Trevor Griffith said: “The panel called for extra research for the projects’ commercial viability and there is the issue of fees – these weren’t made available to the public. But there’s no obvious information that the panel would have known when they met on June 2 that would have swayed their decision.”

He added that at a recent meeting of the Friends Peter Carney, chief executive of borough council, gave no indication that judges were privy to any extra information.

A competition to find a new design for the tea rooms was whittled down to six candidates by the panel.

The Friends believe Lathams’ design will not have an adverse impact on the River Gardens and the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

The building was commissioned by industrialist George Herbert Strutt in 1905 and closed in the early 1980s. For more information on the selection process go to www.ambervalley.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/parks-and-gardens.