‘Three Ships’ co-op landmark earmarked for demolition

Hull City Council said asbestos embedded in the concrete structure means preservation work would be too dangerous

The fight to save cherished piece of co-operative architecture from the wrecking ball looks doomed after surveyors found the building to be riddled with absestos.

The Three Ships mural, designed by Wolverhampton artist Alan Boyson, was built in 1963 on the outside wall of a Hull & East Riding Co-operative Society, in Hull city centre. The glass mosaic, set into a curved concrete screen, depicts three trawlers, in tribute to the area’s maritime industry, with the motto ‘prosper through industry’.

The building later become home to a BHS store and the area is now scheduled for a £120m redevelopment project.

Campaigners Hull Heritage Action Group (HHAG) had gathered more than 6,500 signatures to save the mural – thought to be the largest of its kind in the country – and its preservation was written into planning permission by the local authority.

Related: Film to tell story of Hull’s Three Ships co-op mural

But contractors have found asbestos in the concrete sub-structure and officials say work to remove and replace the mural would break health and safety rules and endanger the public.

Cllr Daren Hale, deputy leader of Hull City Council, said: “We started out on this journey, putting a degree of money aside for reports, with the aim of retaining the mural – planning permission was based on that.”

But that changed once workmen “found dangerously high asbestos levels in the substructure, in the DNA of the building, the concrete.”

The mural has been photographed to allow its reproduction on the front of the new development, he said; another fish mural by Boyson can be saved, while assessments are still being done on a third inside the building, which has been damaged with emulsion paint.

HHAG said is was “incredibly disappointed” by the news, adding: “The loss of this important art work will not only be felt locally, but nationally, as thousand of supporters of the campaign have shown.

“What is regrettable is that an apparent lack of consideration was given to repurposing the building. Had this happened, the future of Alan Boyson’s unique mosaic could have had a more positive, not to mention less costly, outcome.”

The campaign group said it would continue to monitor the council’s pledges to protect the other murals and lobby for their preservation.

“HHAG would like to thank the thousands of individuals, groups and organisations … who have supported the campaign to preserve the Three Ships.”

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