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The former Reynards Garage on Piccadilly is set to be demolished, despite its unique role in 20th century York history.

Council officers say the building has degraded to such a point that it is a danger to the public and should be pulled down.

In a report to the City of York Council executive meeting on June 25, Ian Floyd, director of customer and business support, writes:

Failure to take any action would mean that the council faces an ongoing risk that the structural integrity of the building might fail with the inherent risk to life and limb.

First premises of Airspeed

Although now forlorn and derelict, the Reynard’s Garage building played an important role in York’s heritage.

Built in 1921 as a bus and trolley shed, it was leased ten years later to Airspeed Ltd.

This was the aircraft manufacturing company founded by Nevil Shute Norway (later the novelist Nevil Shute).

The factory made the Tern glider and Ferry passenger aircraft. The Courier was also designed here before the company moved to Portsmouth in 1933 after York failed to set up a municipal aerodrome.

Reynards Garage is included on the York Local List, the register of buildings that are of importance and interest because of their historic or architectural interest.

The list says it should be preserved

because of its close association with the beginnings of an important aircraft company which subsequently contributed much to the defence of the country during World War II The Council intend to sell this site for hotel development.

‘Should be retained’

An aerial view of Piccadilly shows the size of the Reynard's Garage site. Photograph: Bing Maps
An aerial view of Piccadilly shows the size of the Reynard’s Garage site. Photograph: Bing Maps

When then council leader James Alexander tweeted out that the building should make way for a hotel in November 2013, York historian and conservationist Alison Sinclair challenged the view in YorkMix.

She wrote

Reynard’s has historical significance on several grounds, the first being its original purpose in 1921, to serve as a depot for expanding motor and trolley bus services between Fulford and the city centre.

Located in Piccadilly, it also has significance as a structure indicative of the creation of a new street in the medieval city in the early years of the twentieth century.

Most significantly, it has the completely unlikely distinction of being the original factory of the Airspeed aircraft manufacturer, founded by Nevile Shute.

Given these attributes, and in line with good conservation principles, the old garage should be retained and redeveloped.

Air museum plan

Nevil Shute Norway. Photograph: Yorkshire Air Museum
Nevil Shute Norway. Photograph: Yorkshire Air Museum

Ian Reed of the Yorkshire Air Museum wanted to turn Reynard’s Garage into a new attraction for York.

In December 2013, he wrote on YorkMix:

York has had a very few new attractions in the last 30 years. It cries out for things for people (and families) to do rather than just encouraging more hen and stag parties.

Airspeed is York story. It is not another generic attraction but a unique York idea and builds upon the strong York brand.

It is a marketing dream.

In a pitiful state

The historic building has been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair that, the council says, “it would have to be virtually rebuilt if it was ever to be used again”.

The report to the council executive offers these options:

Option 1: Apply for planning permission to demolish the building at an estimated cost of £100,000-£135,000, to remove any health and safety risk.

Option 2: Carry out emergency structural reinforcement to the building, at an estimated minimum cost of £95,000, to prevent a potential collapse of the building. “The cost of these works could escalate significantly as the work commences as new structural issues may be encountered,” the report says.

The old garage is in a Conservation Area.Historic England – the government service for “championing England’s heritage” – says it has been “identified as a building of merit”.

However the building was not listed because, Historic England says,

the restrained Art Deco detailing of the building has been marred by the application of roughcast render and the physical loss of some of the detail through decay.

Lack of physical evidence: the use of the building as the start-up premises of Airspeed, and its association with individuals including Cobham, Tiltman and Shute (significant in the 1930’s development of the British aviation industry) has left no significant identifiable evidence within the building

The council says another report will be submitted later in the year “setting out the work undertaken to assess a future regeneration of the wider area so that an appropriate future use for this site can be identified”.

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