Save Our Sidmouth

Critique of the Heritage Statement for the revised plans for the Knowle.

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The analysis below was done by Jeremy Woodward, Secretary of Futures Forum, Vision Group for Sidmouth. It may prove helpful to SOS supporters for their written objections.




In their report on the heritage at Knowle, Kensington Taylor have chosen to interpret ‘heritage asset’ in the narrowest of terms, as simply those buildings listed by English Heritage within the setting of the Conservation Areas of Sidmouth.

KT devote most of their statement of 12 pages to an analysis of how the OPA will affect one fragment of the heritage on the site, namely the listed Summerhouse, which KT considers the only ‘heritage asset’ of any ‘significance’. As such, they have diminished the larger historical, architectural and artistic context, whilst diminishing all other heritage assets on the site.

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.

Firstly, it is clear that the arboreal heritage immediately surrounding the Summerhouse is of significance, with most of the specimen trees over fifty years of age; the substantial parkland and gardens in fact enjoy much of their ‘original integrity’, offering a setting both for the listed Summerhouse and the other heritage assets. And secondly, the façade of the original Knowle Hotel offers an imposing backdrop to the listed Summerhouse, whilst the palatial scale and volume of the Victorian structure cannot fail to impress when approaching from the views to the south.

It is very clear, however, that the only concern KH consider valid is the ‘immediate setting’ to the listed Summerhouse. The ‘formal terraced gardens’ will be ‘protected’ only in so far as they impinge upon this specific heritage asset and will, therefore, spared from the proposed ‘built development’. However, nowhere else in the report is concern or interest shown for the integrity of the ‘gardens’, whether the formal terracing which dominates the upper section or the current soft boundary planting in the lower parts.

Extraordinarily, KT actually propose that new ‘soft boundary planting’ would mean that ‘impact on views to the Summerhouse from the south will be minimized’, not considering that the raising of most of the formal terraced gardens and the wider setting will mean that the impact on views from any direction will be noticeably maximized.

The other ‘constraints’ which are ‘highlighted as significant’ are, again, simply those heritage assets which ‘need to be addressed’, and no more, in which case, KT refer only briefly to the ‘Lodge’ – although there are in fact two listed lodges to the Victorian Knowle Hotel – and the Grotto – which the report actually refers to as having been listed in 1951, the date when the Hotel itself was originally listed, the circumstances of which are currently being investigated.

The report closes with a cursory consideration of the adjacent Conservation Area. Because the trees ‘running alongside the eastern side of Station Road’ are not to be felled, it is considered that ‘views into and out of the Conservation Area will not therefore be affected’. And yet it is clear that the construction of the proposed care home on the current weekend tourist grasscrete car park, immediately adjacent to the Lodge and the exit to Station Road, would have considerable impact on ‘views into and out of the Conservation Area’.

This Heritage Statement is disappointing in its scope, in that KT refuse to stray beyond a myopic consideration of the history, architecture and artistry of the site. Its distorted perspective precludes a full appreciation of the heritage value and its limited parameters render it not only inadequate but call into question any conclusions reached, in which case this report cannot be accepted in its current form.

October 2012

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