Simon Galton

Liberal Democrat County & District Councillor Learn more

Read more on this

Read more on this

Scraptoft Hall Planning Inquiry – Simon’s response

by simongalton on 9 February, 2010

Below is a copy of what i submitted to the planning inspector about Scraptoft Hall, back in December. We are still waiting to hear any news.

As one of three ward councillors, I have represented the village of Scraptoft for 20 years. I am a member of the Planning Committee and was present at the meeting on 13th January 2009 when the current proposal was considered.  I am familiar with the site and surrounding area and have been heavily involved in planning matters relating to the Hall and the former De Montfort University Campus to the east of the site, currently being redeveloped for housing.

 

Ever since De Montfort University decided to dispose of the Hall and the adjacent campus and concentrate their development programme at the City campus in Leicester, there has been a need to find a new and acceptable use for the Hall. During the last 8 years there have been 3 different proposals: first, De Montfort University submitted a scheme in partnership with a developer, Lychgate properties, second a local resident brought the site with plans to restore the Hall and build some retirement homes in the grounds and now there is the current proposal by Scraptoft Hall Retirement Village.

 

The first two proposals never reached the Planning Committee for one reason or another and in my view both proposals were poor, badly thought out in terms of access arrangements and did not provide for an acceptable restoration of the Hall.

 

Whilst historically DMU failed in their responsibilities to maintain this important grade 2* listed building, the Hall has deteriorated enormously since DMU left. The main problem has been persistent vandalism and criminal damage. Last year the lead and slates were stolen and over a period of time most of the  fittings and fixtures have been removed. Reports of youths seen in the building were being received every week last summer and a great deal of Police time has been spent attending incidents and dealing with trespassing. I am aware that there has been at least one arson attempt and the Police have expressed  concern to me that unless a use is found for the Hall, there may not be a Hall to save for much longer.

 

In considering the current proposal it is important to remember that since its original listing, the area surrounding the Hall has undergone significant change as we saw on the site visit. The University Campus build in the 1950s and 60s comprised large blocks of student accommodation, buildings for teaching, recreation, support services, access roads and car parks. However desirable it would have been to turn the clock back when DMU vacated the site, the existence of the campus buildings meant that when David Wilson Homes came forward with plans for a housing estate of 240 dwellings, the site had to be treated as previously developed land as required by PPS3. Both these developments had and continue to have a huge impact on the Hall and its surrounding grounds and in my view cannot be ignored.  The existence of the new housing estate has to be taken into consideration in coming to a view on any proposals for the Hall and its grounds. Given this situation it seems to me very unlikely that should this proposal be refused, someone is going to come forward with a scheme to restore the Hall to its original use as a Country estate and home. Therefore an acceptable alternative use has to be found if the Hall is going to survive.

 

The present scheme has undergone a number of changes following objections /concerns raised by local residents, the Parish Council and the district planning authority. The original proposals included some 3 storey development to the north of the Hall, close to existing properties on Beeby Road. Local residents were concerned that the new building would be overbearing and would result in a loss of amenity. When the applicants were made aware of these concerns they responded positively and were willing to make changes to the design in an effort to address these points. In particular, the reduction of block D from 3 to 21/2 storeys dropping to single storey at the northern end has been welcomed by affected residents.

 

There has been a great deal of debate about the historic importance of the views from  Covert Lane and looking outwards from the site towards the Scraptoft and Thurnby Valley Separation Area. The extent to which these views will be compromised by blocks G and H is a matter for the Inspector to reach a judgement on.  I agree that it is one of the crucial issues for this Inquiry to address. But in my opinion we shouldn’t forget the other significant and important view of the Hall from the West looking through the gates towards the front elevation. This view is equally important (some may argue more important) and, unlike a previous scheme, the current proposal, which preserves the views from the west, will help to protect the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

 

Harborough District has more elderly people than the national average and the number of older people are expected to grow faster than average over the next 20 years. In Scraptoft and Thurnby I am aware of elderly residents living in large family houses which have become too big for them. They wish to stay in the local area but there is insufficient high quality suitable accommodation available and I believe this scheme will help to meet the local housing needs of older people. It is also worth mentioning that whilst local opinion is not the only issue on which applications should be determined, there have been few local objections to this proposal which is not normally the situation in Scraptoft. Indeed most people I have spoken to say there is a desperate need to find solution for the Hall and believe the authorities should  be realistic about what can be delivered bearing in mind the length of the time the Hall has been empty.

 

In conclusion, I am convinced that the current scheme which gained consent from the District Council in January of this year is the only chance we have of securing the future of Scraptoft Hall before vandalism and theft result in its complete destruction.

It is unrealistic of English Heritage to assume that there is any alternative waiting in the wings – both the current economic climate and the modern housing estate which wraps round the eastern part of what was once a desirable gentleman’s residence complete with ornamental gardens and extensive pleasure grounds militate against the possible purchase and restoration of the Hall by a single benefactor.  

It is equally unrealistic to suppose that there are developers eager to take on a grade II* listed building in an appalling state with little scope to recoup their costs with new build in the grounds especially as ‘other grant funding’ is unlikely to be forthcoming in the current economic situation.

English Heritage claims that the Hall was not marketed vigorously enough by DMU and that the District Council has rushed into this scheme without having due regard to the damaging impact it may produce on the Conservation Area, the listed building and its setting.  As I have already explained, there were several schemes put forward following active marketing of the property by DMU (indeed I can recall seeing the ‘for sale’ advertisements in the local paper on at least 3 occasions).  None of these reached fruition until this latest proposal.  It is also unfair to claim that the District Council was too eager to find a solution to the building’s condition and failed to weigh up the harm of the new build.  Much discussion was held with the developers, the ward councillors and the parish over the extent of the new building proposed but in the end it was decided that rescuing the Hall before it was too late outweighed any possible harm to the already seriously compromised historic landscape.  In the absence of any fairy godmother waiting in the wings, this scheme represents the last viable chance to secure the future of Scraptoft Hall.  It may not be the ideal solution but it is the only one we have or are likely to have.

English Heritage claims that this proposal is not in the public interest because of the damage it causes to the setting of the Hall.  Surely the ‘public interest’ lies in preventing the total collapse of a nationally important building whose setting has been so eroded over the last 50 years.

   Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>