East Devon District Council
20 September 2012
Dear Mr Freeman
The Knowle and The Knowle Park, Sidmouth – 12/1847/MOUT
SAVE writes to object in the strongest terms to the proposal to demolish the 19th- century council offices and build on the Knowle Park in Sidmouth, Devon. This application proposes the demolition of The Knowle, a handsome three-storey building which started its life as a cottage orné in the Picturesque style and was adapted in the mid-19th century as a hotel before becoming the council’s offices in 1969. Although it has been altered several times – when it was enlarged to become a hotel and again when converted to offices – the Knowle retains much of its late-19th century interior decoration including fireplaces with delft tiles, decorated timber door frames, an open-string main staircase, some plaster ceilings, Pugin-style patterned wallpaper and painted columns. These features give the interior a grand and imposing feel.
The Knowle stands within attractive and extensive landscaped grounds called Knowle Park located in the centre of Sidmouth. Parts of the park were designated in 1973 as Public Open Space. Despite the fact they have been altered and the original conservatories have gone, much survives and consists of southern terraces and paths, open fields to the north east, and plants and mature trees. The park is a much-loved local amenity and provides a visual contrast to the urban landscape.
In our view, loss of the Knowle and development of the park on the scale proposed would 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 application states that the council wishes to move to modern premises because it believes The Knowle is not fit for purpose because it is ‘ageing’ and is expensive to run. 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. The council should be setting an example to the district and showing that historic buildings should be valued not discarded.
In our view, The Knowle is eminently capable of conversion and re-use. Although reuse 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. The long-term benefits of retaining this building should be considered as it would serve to secure a local landmark.
We have studied the Design and Access Statement submitted with the application. The section on Heritage is brief and insufficient and the applicant states a separate, stand alone Heritage Statement has been submitted. However, following enquiries yesterday we discovered this is in fact not the case and that the council is still waiting to receive the Heritage Statement. We understand therefore that the council cannot properly consider the application until this document has been received and so the consultation period will be extended. In the meantime, and while we wait to study this statement and provide further comments, we would like to register our strong objection to the application.
A listing application was made to the council for The Knowle and Knowle Park. Although English Heritage considered the building and park to be below the threshold for national designation, it acknowledged both to be of ‘clear local interest’ and that they are ‘evidently highly-valued by the local community’. The report also stated that the building ‘retains some attractive internal features’.
In our view, a 60-bed care home and up to 50 residential homes constitutes as gross over-development of the site. A more appropriate site for the proposed development could surely be found on the outskirts of the town for a care home and residential dwellings. The NPPF (74) states that:
‘74. Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
● an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
● the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or
● the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the needs for which clearly outweigh the loss.’
These criteria clearly have not been met.
In light of the above concerns, SAVE urges you to refuse this application.