Current Heritage at Risk
Halstead Air Raid Shelters
In an area of woodland, just to the east of the High Street lie sixteen WW2 buildings, all described as air raid shelters. They were built by Courtaulds in 1939 to protect their workforce from the Luftwaffe. Courtaulds' Halstead factory worked directly on war production during WWII, including weaving fabric for parachutes. There were no air attacks on the factory, although 170 visits were recorded in the factory's log of time lost to air raids.
Laid out in two offset lines, the shelters are close to the former factory, but with land in short supply, many were built in the gardens of Factory Terrace and Vicarage Meadow. These were all houses built by Courtaulds for their workers so were consider factory premises.
Fifteen of the shelters are Costains, a semi-sunken type, built from preformed concrete arcs and designed to hold up to 50 people. A sixteenth shelter was built above ground in brick and had several uses: as a first aid centre, a communications centre and an ARP Warden's post.
A 2004 military archaeologist’s report stated ‘if the fifteen (or anything close to it) underground air raid shelters do still survive, they, together with the surface shelter, will probably constitute the most comprehensive group of air raid shelters in Essex.
A 2004 military archaeology report concluded that "On the criteria of Rarity, Typicality, Group Value and Condition, every effort should be made, initially through the planning process and ultimately as Scheduled Monuments, to ensure their continued survival." Eight of the Costain shelters and the above-ground shelter are listed under curtilage to Grade II listed Factory Terrace. An application to list the whole group was refused in 2006 on the grounds that tens of thousands of air raid shelters were built in readiness for WWII. A further application to list the shelters met the same response in 2013.
Our own informal research has shown that a surviving group of so many air raid shelters is very rare. Industrial WWII civil defence structures are disappearing at an alarming rate, so Halstead is very lucky to still have this piece of history. Their significance has earned them a place on the Local Heritage List and they are included in Save Britain's Heritage's Buildings at Risk register. Their significance was recognised in a 2019 report by a planning inspector when an appeal by a local developer was dismissed.
The land containing the shelters was sold by auction to a development company in February 2021 and in 2022 a communications company, acting on behalf of the new owners, set up a website to promote development proposals for the Site and set up an online public consultation. Following this event, the new owners, Halstead New Homes Ltd., and Halstead 21st Century Group met. The meetings focused on as much common ground and negotiations to secure the shelters and other assets for the public benefit. In June of that year, Halstead New Homes submitted a planning application to build 31 dwellings and associated car parking, amenity areas, external works, and the retention of 10 air raid shelters and the above-ground brick structure. However, on 8 October 2022 the report presented to the Planning Committee approved its recommendations and the application was refused.
The latest and current planning application was submitted in October 2023. Halstead 21st Century Group have always worked for the best possible outcome for Land East of the High Street so would like to see its vision of Halstead Heritage Park realised so that the Site's built and natural heritage can be preserved. However, its Local Plan designation as a development area imposes limits to the natural assets that can be saved, and while some Tree Preservation Orders are in place, regrettably, there is no formal protection of the Site as a Green Space. Local Plan policy does seek the retention of THE air raid shelters - implying all of them - and time is of the essence to save these buildings. Halstead 21st Century Group has therefore worked hard with Halstead New Homes Ltd. to achieve an outcome that at least preserves our built heritage.
The current application is the closest to our aspirations. It retains 10 of the underground shelters along with the overground structure; it includes the refurbishment of some of the shelters; and it hands over the management of the wartime buildings to Halstead 21st Century Group in order for these historic assets to benefit the community.
All the planning documents and consultation reports can be viewed by clicking on the planning application link. The application will go before the Planning Committee and expect a decision to be made in early 2024. We will of course keep you updated with any further developments so please check our Facebook page for news.