Panel chosen to decide the future of tea rooms

Sharron Thomas setting up the diplays for the Belper river gardens tea room.
Sharron Thomas setting up the diplays for the Belper river gardens tea room.

A FIVE-strong panel has been chosen to decide the future of Belper’s historic Swiss Tea Rooms.

The quintet will meet up to assess the 21 proposals that have been submitted by architects in the race to redesign the landmark.

Amber Valley Borough Council launched the race to bring about an end to the controversial issue of what should happen to the iconic structure in the town’s River Gardens.

A spokesman for the council said the authority was excited by the variety of innovative designs that have been submitted.

A public viewing of the plans took place yesterday at the Lion Hotel in Belper.

The panel will now have the challenging task of whittling the 21 designs into a shortlist.

Members of the public will then be asked for their opinion, before the final decision is made by the judges.

The five judges are Cllr Stuart Bradford, who is the leader of the borough council; Cllr Andrew Lewer, who is the leader of Derbyshire County Council and chairman of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Panel; Cllr Alan Cox, who is Mayor of Amber Valley and chairman of partnership schemes in conservation areas for Belper and Milford, a Belper town councillor, and borough councillor for Belper North which includes the River Gardens; Cllr Martin Tomlinson, who is the deputy leader of Belper Town Council and an Amber Valley member for Belper East; and Belper News Editor Julie Crouch.

Cllr Lewer commented: “I am very pleased to be invited to play a part in finding a way forward on this important project.

“It demonstrates a real commitment to partnership working which I greatly value.”

Cllr Cox added: “I am pleased to be a member of the panel but I will not make any judgment until we have seen the designs.”

Editor Ms Crouch said: “I am very pleased to have been selected to serve on the panel.

“Our readers tell us pretty much on a weekly basis how important they feel the tea rooms are.

“It will be a very important building in the River Gardens and for the town that will be there for generations.”

A spokesman for the council said: “Once a design has been selected, and subject to the granting of the necessary approvals, the council will look at external sources of funding for the project, which is expected to cost in the region of £400,000.

“We will also be looking for someone to operate the tea rooms on a tenancy basis.”

Speaking before the public viewing yesterday, the council spokesman said: “We are very pleased and excited about the designs that have been submitted.

“There are some exciting and innovative designs in there, including things like living roofs.

“The judging panel will decide what the winning design is. But the public will be able to give their opinions before the final decision is made.”

The design of the new tea rooms has caused much controversy in Belper, with many people saying the new building has to be in keeping with the traditional gardens.

Check out next week’s Belper News for more details on the tea rooms designs.

The tea rooms were built in 1905 by George Herbert Strutt and sit in the shadow of Belper’s historic mills.

They closed in the early 1980s, but were used for other purposes for a while, before dry rot and vandalism forced them to be closed down. They are now boarded up.