Monday, 18 December 2017

Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal inquiry >>> objection from SAVE Britain's Heritage

Over five years ago, an attempt to have the former Knowle site listed as a Grade II building failed - but English Heritage at the time recognised its importance as a local heritage asset:

“The alterations that have occurred both to the gardens and the house mean that neither meets the criteria for designation in a national context, though they are evidently highly-valued by the local community.”

Futures Forum: Knowle: Victorian hotel and grounds ... application to English Heritage for national listing

Comment at the time showed how county and national bodies had supported the application:

“It’s very disappointing indeed, considering that bodies such as the Devon Gardens Trust and the national SAVE Britain’s Heritage organisation have come out very strongly against the destruction of these prime assets.”

When it came to the first planning application five years ago, consultants tried to rubbish the heritage at Knowle: 

The report claims that the buildings and grounds are ‘much altered’ and that ‘the setting of the listed Summerhouse is already much compromised and divorced from the original integrity of the extended grounds.’ 

This understanding of the setting is in much dispute, as has been made clear by the submissions from established bodies including the Devon Gardens Trust and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

Critique of the Heritage Statement for the revised plans for the Knowle. | Save Our Sidmouth

SAVE Britain's Heritage was very clear about its objection to that planning application - and in particular the 'shocking case of a council seeking to destroy its own heritage':
Futures Forum: Knowle: SAVE Britain's Heritage
Knowle : Letter to ‘SAVE Britain’s Heritage’ from SOS | Save Our Sidmouth

With the latest planning application, the onslaught on heritage has continued:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: PegasusLife appeal >>> submission from Vision Group for Sidmouth

But so too has the unequivocal response from SAVE Britain's Heritage:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: SAVE Britain's Heritage >>> Historic England acknowledged that both the house and the park are of 'clear local interest' and are 'evidently highly valued by the local community'.

And this was taken up extensively by the press:

Plea for Sidmouth’s ‘historic Knowle hotel’ to be spared

PUBLISHED: 06:28 15 February 2016
Harvey Gavin

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7712-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

A national conservation group has weighed in on the debate over the future development of Knowle by making a last-ditch plea for the site’s former hotel building to be saved.

Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) has written to PegasusLife urging the retirement community firm to convert the 19th-century building instead of bulldozing it to make way for 118 apartments.

Director of SAVE, Clementine Cecil, says the potential development currently proposed ‘would represent a devastating blow to the history and character of Sidmouth’.

But Pegasus insists it has ‘carefully considered’ the history and heritage of the site in its designs for the parkland and current East Devon District Council offices. The developer says it plans to preserve some of the historic features of the three-storey hotel building for display in Sidmouth Museum.

In her letter to Pegasus, Ms Cecil argues that restoring and converting older buildings is not always a more expensive option than razing a site and starting fresh.

She said: “There are many precedents throughout the UK where historic buildings have been updated, at affordable costs, and SAVE sees no reason why this cannot be done here. In our view, Knowle is eminently capable of conversion and re-use. Although re-use of the existing building may not produce the same level of return as new-build, this does not mean that it is not practical or economic to do so. SAVE urges PegasusLife to reconfigure these designs and revise their intentions for the site in order to preserve the building and existing amenity for the local community and wider public.”

Pegasus unveiled a revised masterplan for the 4.7-acre site at a series of public exhibitions last month, which include 118 apartments for over 60s and a café/restaurant which would be open to the public.

The former hotel is not subject to any legal conservation protection, although an attempt was made by a group of Sidmouth residents in 2012 to have the building listed. The bid was ultimately unsuccessful, with English Heritage deeming the plot to be below the threshold required for listed status, but officials did note that it was a site of ‘clear local interest’.

Emma Webster, public policy manager for Pegasus, said: “The history and heritage of the site has been carefully considered throughout the design of the development of our proposals at Knowle. Unfortunately, over time the historic elements contained within the council building have been watered-down or lost. This is reflected in the comments made by English Heritage in their evaluation of Knowle and its park for listing.

“PegasusLife is working with a number of different groups, including Sidmouth Museum, to preserve important features, including the marble fireplaces and delft tiles. We are also exploring ways in which the Pugin-style wallpaper could be removed so that it can be displayed at the museum for the enjoyment of the town.”

Plea for Sidmouth’s ‘historic Knowle hotel’ to be spared | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Concerns of Sidmouth residents ‘ignored’ by Knowle developer - View News

In their most recent letter of objection, SAVE Britain's Heritage reiterated the importance of this heritage asset:

In our view, the loss of the Knowle and the additional development of the park's upper lawns and car park as proposed represent a devastating blow to the history and character of Sidmouth, a remarkably well-preserved Regency town in a beautiful setting on the Jurassic coast. 

The long term benefits of retaining this building should be properly considered as it would serve to secure an important local landmark.

Home Page | SAVE Britain's Heritage

Of equal interest is the information presented to the Inspector at the recent appeal, by Peter Nasmyth, who is a friend of SAVE Britain's Heritage. 

This concerned the Design Review Panel - which the PegasusLife barrister referred to extensively during the Inquiry:

The Design Review Panel report

A part of PegasusLife's application involved a Design Review Panel report on their development's design sensitivity and acknowledgement of the local historic presence - commissioned as a so-called 'independent' assessment.

Unsurprisingly, the Panel came to the conclusion that the PegasusLife project was a “design response” to the local area that was “attractive, sensitive and sophisticated.”

However it should be pointed out that the Design Review Panel's report is, as its own final notes make clear, “opinion and suggestion only” and “does not constitute professional advice”.

And far more importantly the report should be read bearing in mind the words of the Panel's own website, which describes it purpose as to “support applicants and decision-makers in gaining planning approval”.

It is perhaps ironic that a far truer and sensitive design response to the area, is the existing Knowle building, now scheduled for demolition. The flint walls, roof pergola, this Victorian council chamber and considerably lower height, are far more ‘attractive, sensitive, and if modernized, sophisticated,’ with regards Sidmouth’s unique presence on our Heritage Coast.

As SAVE Britain’s Heritage points out in their letter, there are numerous examples around the country of similar buildings with strong historic interest (which English Heritage ascribed to the Knowle) that have been renovated and re-used to excellent effect. This could so easily be another. 

Finally, there have clearly been parallels between the two applications when it comes to disregard of heritage:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project > Pegasus planning application 16/0872/MFUL >>> and the rejected planning application 12/1847/MOUT of 1st March 2013 >>> Part four: Contrary to policy EN9 (Extension, Alteration or Change of Use of Buildings of Special Architectural and Historic Interest)

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