THE bulldozers will be going in to demolish a 145-year-old Victorian school building after planners said they had no power to stop the owner raising it to the ground for hardstanding.

The decision to allow the demolition of Garway Old School is vehemently opposed by the Save Britain’s Heritage charity, the ward county councillor, the parish council and many villagers.

But Herefordshire Council planning officer Simon Withers has ruled that the destruction qualifies as ‘permitted development’ - despite the owner having secured planning permission to convert it to two homes nine years ago, only to let it fall into disrepair.

And furious villagers fear the land will now become the subject of a fresh planning application for new homes, with permission previously granted for new construction beside the building.

Attempts to get it listed as “nationally important” and declared a community asset failed last year after a previous demolition bid was turned down on the grounds of insufficient information.

Despite declining to list it, English Heritage admitted it had “historic interest as an early board school in a remote countryside location”.

And Mr Withers accepted that the “attractive Victorian stone built, former school house“ was “certainly of sufficient architectural quality to be considered a non-designated heritage asset”.

He also said it “is in good structural condition” and “continues to make a generally positive contribution to the site and wider locality”.

But “acknowledging the sheer volume and strong views of the local community”, he admitted that the council was effectively powerless to stop owner Gerard Davies, of Old Hendre Farm in Wonastow near Monmouth, from levelling it, as “the works to demolish can be reasonably considered to be permitted development”.

Ward county councillor Toni Fagan was among more than 100 villagers objecting to the application, saying: “There is enormous and substantial local objection to the demolition of this building which is a non-designated heritage asset of highly significant importance to the settlement of Garway…

“It is my belief that the demolition of the building should not be decided under permitted development rights and that a full planning application would be much more appropriate in determining the fate of this iconic building.

“I find it completely unacceptable that the legislation does not allow for substantial local objection to the demolition to be properly voiced through the planning committee where local objection to the proposals would get a proper hearing or enable us to get some idea of what will follow the demolition of the building.“I find it difficult to fathom why the owner has made the decision to demolish the building as it has previously had planning permission for development, and buildings of this nature in the surrounding area have been sympathetically developed and are ofgreat financial, heritage and aesthetic value… “I am struggling to understand how we can allow the demolition of such a building can even be considered given the amount of embodied carbon within the building.”

Save Britain’s Heritage challenged the planners’ interpretation of the law, and added: “These buildings are non-designated heritage assets of considerable local architectural and historic significance which we consider to be perfectly suitable for conversion and reuse…

“The building has not been proven to beyond repair or to pose a public health risk.”