THE FUTURE of Bodmin's Foster Hall looks bleak after the last remaining hurdle preventing its demolition was overcome.
Cornwall Council planning officers ruled this week that the prominent building's owners – Community First Cornwall and leaseholder Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – did not need to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
This means the iconic building, designed by renowned Cornish architect Silvanus Trevail, could be demolished under "permitted development" rights.
The NHS said the building is costly to maintain and an obstacle to development on the old St Lawrence's Hospital site.
A campaign group fighting to save it – The Foster Hall Revival Trust – said the 1906 building could be restored as a community centre and performance venue with a café, bar and shops.
Phil Ugalde, chairman of the trust, said he feared their battle had come to an end.
"We've fought all we can," he said. "I don't know what more we can do."
He added that group's plans were perhaps the "wrong project at the wrong time".
"For the project to be realised there needs to be a lot of public money as well as private and community finance," he said.
"We can't get any appetite from Cornwall Council; they're not interested."
And he said he was concerned for the future of Bodmin should Foster Hall be demolished.
"Bodmin is moving and expanding to a big population centre but [with Foster Hall gone] there will be no big cultural centre.
"If Foster Hall is demolished then perhaps the focus of the trust will change and we will look at an appropriate community centre for Bodmin."
Gill Patrick, who was previously involved with the campaign, said he was baffled by the current situation.
"What is absolutely barmy is that if you believe that the St Lawrence's site is a key economic development site – where there can be new businesses – then the economic development of North Cornwall is being run by the part of the NHS that delivers mental health services in Cornwall," he said.
"If they [the NHS] are determined that whatever they want to do can't happen in Foster Hall then it should be handed back to the public purse. The whole thing is just mad."
Cornwall Heritage Trust has also lodged its objections.
A spokesman for the trust wrote on Cornwall Council's online planning website that the buildings were an "important part of Cornish architectural heritage and as such should be retained and included in any future redevelopment of the site rather than be demolished".
He added: "They deserve to be saved for our future generations to learn about and appreciate their Cornish architecture."
However, English Heritage said Foster Hall did not warrant listed building status.
Ian Bartlett, estates and facilities manager for Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, said: "We acknowledge this decision will create mixed feelings locally and, while some people may have fond memories of working at the old asylum, others may have less pleasant recollections.
"For many years now, the buildings have not given any benefit to the provision of healthcare for local people and, indeed, require considerable investment in order to ensure their security and the safety of the public.
"Patient care is our priority and finances are becoming ever tighter. With this in mind, together with the owners, we have taken the decision to demolish. Continuing to invest in a derelict property must not take priority over health services for patients."