101 Sydney Place, Bathwick, Bath
101 Sydney Place forms part of a Grade I series of eleven terraced townhouses situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The terrace was constructed in 1808-1809, designed by John Pinch the Elder, and form part of the unfinished vision of Sir William Johnstone Pulteney for the residential setting of Sydney Gardens, flanking the junction to Great Pulteney Street. The terrace is noted for its uniform, palatial façade punctuated with three pavilion-esque dwellings set forward at each end and at the terrace centre. Unusually, the attic storey is included as a separate storey within the body of the building, rather than being set back into the mansard slope. 93-103 Sydney Place forms the last section of terrace to be built surrounding Sydney Gardens and is consequently a significant indicator of an unfinished, speculative plan for the further expansion of Georgian Bath to the east and forms part of the Georgian Town Planning and Georgian Architecture OUV of the World Heritage Site.
Along with 99 and 100 Sydney Place, 101 Sydney Place was acquired by Bath Council and was used to provide student accommodation and classrooms for the Bath Arts Secondary School from 1952 up until 1997, when it was consented to convert 101 Sydney Place back into residential use as two dwellings. It is believed that 99-101 Sydney Place have largely survived subdivision into apartment-style accommodation and are rare examples of the terrace’s original townhouse plan form.
The Trust notes that it last conducted an interior survey of the building in 1991. We would be very interested in conducting a future site visit (current restrictions pending) to establish what fixtures and fittings have survived the 1991 & 1997 works, particularly on the first floor. Alternatively we would urge the case officer to make or request a record of interior details.
Applications 97/01026/FUL & 97/01027/LBA consented the subdivision of the building to provide one self-contained flat on the lower ground floor, and one dwelling on the ground, first, second, and third floor whilst enabling the existing plan form of the building as a whole to remain largely intact. Therefore, we query the D&A Statement’s claim that the dwelling currently provides one maisonette on the lower ground, ground, and first floors, and one maisonette on the second and third floors as this internal layout is not reflected in any existing consent. We additionally highlight the absence of any communal living facilities (kitchen, living room) on the second and third floors, and query how this currently functions as a unit of residential accommodation.
We additionally highlight the front-facing vaults under the pavement, which are identified for use in the 1997 consent as stores ancillary to the main building, with a study and a cloakroom bathroom. We note that in the current existing drawings, the vaults now appear to be used as a bedroom and ensuite with a snug. The Trust are concerned with the residential conversion of vaults and basements, which are integral to the architectural and historic significance of Bath’s Georgian listed buildings. These spaces are typically prone to damp and poor ventilation and light and are therefore not suitable for habitation, and better lend themselves to ancillary storage use. We therefore suggest that further information is provided regarding the current condition of the vaults and whether any damp proofing or dry lining works have already occurred, and whether any measures are proposed as part of the proposed conversion to include a new bedroom and ensuite to assess potential impact to historic fabric and character.
Significantly, the Trust remains concerned regarding the proposed subdivision of 101 Sydney Place and the potential resulting harm to historic fabric and loss of historic plan form.
We question the proposed insertion of a staircase between the lower ground and ground floors in the rear hall to create a ‘self-contained’ maisonette. We do not feel that the proposed creation of a separate access between floors at odds with the original plan form and associated loss of historic fabric is justified considering the existing main staircase facilitating access to the lower ground floor.
Furthermore, we feel the proposed creation of a passage through the historic spine wall between the front and rear of the building to enable access to the dining room from the rear hall would result in a significant loss of historic fabric and a fundamental alteration to the plan form of the building and how the principal rooms on the ground floor are accessed and experienced. The passage would awkwardly curve to avoid the fireplace in the rear hall and provide a narrow, concealed access completely out of character with the grand, double depth floor plan of the ground floor front rooms.
We note that further revised drawings have been submitted clarifying how the ‘piano nobile’ on the first floor would be integrated within the scheme; it has been confirmed that the first floor would “serve as ancillary receiving rooms and as study space to the unit occupying the ground and lower ground floor maisonette, accessed from the main stairwell.” We note that access to the Drawing Room and Withdrawing Room/Library would be facilitated by the existing main staircase despite this also being used as access to the second and third floor maisonette, with doors remaining locked unless in use, and query how this aligns with the proposal to create “three self-contained residential units”. We therefore question why the same means of access could not be applied to the ground and lower ground floor maisonette to retain the original plan form and minimise the unnecessary, irreversible loss of historic fabric.
We have some concerns that the proposed sub-division of the building may place undue future pressure on the first floor as to how it is integrated within the ground and lower ground floor maisonette. We emphasise the significance of the ‘piano nobile’ on the first floor as the principal storey of the building intended as the main reception rooms for entertaining and consequently more ornately decorated with high ceilings and the tallest windows, as can be seen from the exterior elevations. This aspect of the building remains the most sensitive with regards to its plan form, access from the main staircase, and internal detailing and plasterwork and any alterations must be considerate as to how these elements can be sensitively retained.
In accordance with paragraph 193 of the NPPF, “great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation” irrespective of the scale of harm proposed. Paragraph 195 of the NPPF goes on to say that where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm, “local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or total loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss…” At present, the building forms two occupied dwellings; whilst the proposed creation of self-contained dwellings offers some public benefit, this is limited considering the ongoing residential use of the building in its current form and therefore is not considered to outweigh the proposed harm or loss of historic fabric and plan form.
This application therefore proposes unjustified substantial harm to a Grade I building without demonstrated substantial public benefit and harm to the building’s contribution to the Georgian Architecture OUV of the World Heritage Site through harm to the plan form of what is considered one of John Pinch’s finest creations. This application is therefore contrary to the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, Section 16 of the NPPF, and Policies B1, B4, BD1, CP6, D1, D2, and HE1 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan and should be refused or withdrawn.