CONSERVATIONISTS are urging council planners to save a historic building from demolition to make way for executive homes.

English Heritage and The Victorian Society have written to Hartlepool Borough Council in an 11th-hour bid to save Tunstall Court, an historic mansion in the West Park area of Hartlepool.

The controversial landmark has been repeatedly targeted by arsons and vandals in recent years and owners Ruttle North East recently submitted plans to demolish it and build 14 houses on the site.

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The campaigners maintain the distinctive building is one of the most important great villas built by Hartlepool's late Victorian industrialists and is one of only two to survive in the town.

But English Heritage says the loss of the building, designed by architect T Lewis Banks and built in 1894 to 1895, would pose “substantial harm to the significance of the Park Conservation Area” and is calling for evidence that there is no other option for the site.

The Victorian Society hail Tunstall Court hail as “testament to the wealth and prestige enjoyed by its owner”, shipbuilder and MP Christopher Furness.

Calling on the council to refuse the applicatin, James Hughes, conservation adviser at the Victorian Society said: "Demolition of Tunstall Court would be a great loss to the character of the conservation area and to Hartlepool's wider architectural heritage.

"The poor condition of an important building - whether due to neglect or a failure to secure it against vandalism and arson - should not be used as justification for demolition.

“We understand local frustration at the building's worsening condition, but urge restoration and sensitive development in its grounds as the solution, not demolition.”

In a letter to the council, English Heritage’s principal inspector of historic buildings and areas, Catherine Dewar, said: “We recommend that the applicant should submit development appraisals and details of the marketing of the site as evidence of the lack of financial viability for the conversion of the villa.”

A decision on the plan to demolish the building could be made next month (April).