AN EMPTY 1960s office block in York city centre could be made taller under new plans to turn it into flats and a health centre.

Developers want to create 13 apartments in the upper floors in Hilary House in St Saviour’s Place and say they would improve the building’s impact on the surrounding area. But their plan to add a sixth storey to accommodate a penthouse apartment has been criticised by a city-centre planning group.

The Guildhall Planning Panel said an extra floor would increase the building’s impact and said: “The only thing to do to this carbuncle is raze is to the ground.” They called the building a “monstrosity”, lamented the lack of artist’s impressions showing how it may look after the work and said any extension could detract from the Hiscox offices being built nearby on Peaseholme Green.

Hilary House was designed by architect John Poulson and opened in 1964 on the site of the old Salem Chapel, but it has been empty since inland revenue staff moved out early last year.

Developers have already submitted a planning application to open a cosmetic surgery and treatment centre on the ground floor, as reported in The Press last week, and say they also want to redesign the rest of the building.

A “visual impact” study written by PDP Landscape for the developers said Hilary House was an example of “dogmatic approach” to building design in the 1960s, with a “disregard” for historic context. City of York Council has identified both it and nearby Stonebow House as buildings that detract from the city-centre conservation area.

PDP say that by recladding the building, adding a penthouse with varied rooflines to remove the flat-roof and redesigning the blunt area around the building would reduce its impact.

The firm said the building currently had a “major adverse effect” on the area but said there was now a “major opportunity to improve the appearance”, when viewed from the street or from high vantage points such as the Bar Walls or York Minster.

PDP said its approach was in line with council policy, which suggests re-cladding buildings that detract from the conservation area as a short-medium term measure. The council favours demolition and replacement of such buildings in the long term.