4 Macaulay Buildings, Widcombe, Bath
4 Macaulay Buildings forms part of a pair of Grade II semi-detached early 19th century villas (No. 3-4), situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The site also falls within the boundary of the Bath & Bristol Green Belt and the Cotswolds AONB. It forms part of an intentional streetscape of three pairs of semi-detached villas, undertaken by Thomas Macaulay Cruttwell, that step down the steep east-west slope of Widcombe Hill. The villas are homogenous in character, each featuring a shared four-bay façade in Bath stone ashlar, articulated with unusually shallow, curved window bays up to parapet level. On the north and south elevations, each pair is flanked by a pair of projecting chimney breasts set back from the main façade, although a number of these have been subject to later alteration. The villas form part of the shared streetscape of the Grade II terrace at Macaulay Buildings; sweeping westward views from the rear of Macaulay Buildings, incorporating the rear elevations of No. 1-6 in views out towards the historic city centre (see Fig. 1).
The existing side extension, legible as a single storey garage within the streetscape but dropping to a two-storey height in southern views, was originally permitted in 1972. However, based on the 1972 drawings in comparison with the extension as built (see Planning & Heritage Statement, Appendix 3), there appears to be a disparity in the design as originally permitted and as executed. The height of the proposed garage element was proposed to align with the first-floor string course across the principal north elevation. However, the existing garage clearly sits above the string course, resulting in a jarring visual misalignment with the original proportions and detailing of the original building. Further, it was indicated that the extension was to be finished in “natural stone” across the front and side elevations; the side elevation has instead been finished in what appears to be a reconstituted stone of a disparate colour and finish to the rest of the building, which remains clearly visible in streetscape views from the east.
As such, it is apparent that the garage as built is in breach of its original planning permission. This is a relevant consideration as part of this planning application and the proposed improvements to the extension, including re-cladding of existing elevations.
Design and Appearance:
BPT does not oppose the principle of contemporary additions to a listed building where this appropriately references and draws from the architectural form, proportions, and order of the host building. However, we have strong heritage and townscape concerns with the proposed extension on grounds of the increased height, scale, and massing, and resulting impact on the significance (special architectural and historic interest) of the listed building and its contributions to the streetscape character and appearance of the conservation area.
We note that the extension as existing fails to appropriately relate to or align with the main body of the building. The proposed increase in height would sit even further above the established level of the ground floor, resulting in a greater visual disconnect with the host building. Similarly, where the extension was designed to align with the rear bay cornice, the proposed increase in height would result in a further disconnect with the proportions of the rear elevation. The fenestration bars of the proposed extent of glazing across the south elevation would also fail to pick up on the established first floor string course, resulting in an awkward and lopsided appearance at odds with the building’s architectural rhythm.
In this location, an extension should be a visually recessive and low-profile addition to ensure subservience to the principal building, and to maintain the balanced form and appearance of the semi-detached villa, and gaps between the villas out into open countryside. An increase in roof height would therefore be detrimental, and we emphasise that the existing garage should match or sit below the first-floor string course as originally permitted.
We have further heritage concerns regarding the increased depth of the extension across almost the entirety of the eastern flanking wall at ground and lower ground floor level. Cumulatively with the proposed height, this would result in a perceived increase in the overall bulk and massing of the extension and an increasingly unbalanced form in relation to both the extension’s role as an ancillary addition to the host building, and the special architectural interest of the shared frontage and balanced composition of No. 3-4 Macaulay Buildings as a pair.
An opportunity has been missed as part of the proposed refurbishment to set the north elevation back from the principal elevation; the extension as existing is set flush with the frontage of the host building which has already resulted in an overly prominent roadside position in wider streetscape views (see Fig. 2).
The proposed volume of glazing on the southern elevation has the potential to result in increased lightspill and sun reflection/glare, with detriment to wider, rural landscape views out from Macaulay Buildings to the west across Widcombe, and the area’s contribution to the landscape setting of the World Heritage Site.
We note that the application does present a number of identified heritage benefits as part of the scheme, such as the rendering over and refinishing of the existing reconstituted stone on the east elevation. However, as the original planning permission indicated that a natural stone should have been used across all external elevations, the replacement of the imitation stone should not be perceived as a benefit when it should not have been used in the first place. As such, in light of the discrepancies with the 1972 drawings, it is considered that any heritage benefits resulting from this scheme would be very limited and ultimately outweighed by harm to a listed building.
The Planning & Heritage Statement indicated that “the officers noted that the existing extension was profoundly detrimental to the character and appearance of the listed building and the conservation area.” It is therefore unclear as to how an extension of increased height, massing, and overall bulk would improve or mitigate the existing adverse impact on a number of heritage assets, and we conclude that proposals would result in further harm to a listed building and the visual amenities of the conservation area with no demonstrated public benefit.
In light of the Climate Emergency, BPT welcomes the opportunity for the integration of PV panels where these would be coherent with the special interest of a listed building, and the wider character and appearance of the conservation area.
The proposed installation of a PV solar array on the flat-roofed extension would be focused on an area of later 20th century construction and as such would have a negligible material impact on historic fabric.
However, at this stage we have some questions regarding the siting of the array, particularly in elevated views from the east. As existing, views from Widcombe Hill, particularly the earlier junction with Macaulay Buildings, offers angled views across No. 1-6 that include the flat roofed finish of the existing garage extension. From this perspective, it remains unclear as to the degree of roofscape visible as part of the proposals, or whether the proposed roof array would be screened by the proposed, deepened parapet. Further contextual visuals of proposals in wider streetscape views would therefore be helpful.
We further emphasise the need for greater assessment of the proposed design and finish of the PV panels, for assessing impact mitigation within this location, due to the amount of variety seen in different panel specifications. We emphasise our preference for ‘frameless’ panels with a matt black finish to minimise reflectivity and possible brightness of appearance and blend in as best as possible with the existing roof covering. Panels should sit as close to the proposed roof finish as possible – the proposed visual (D&A Statement, p.4) appears to show the panels laid flat against the flat roof – although this needs to be appropriately balanced against securing a suitable level of functional efficiency to justify the panels in the first place. In this instance, the 180°angle coupled with a parapet surround may impact energy optimisation by overshadowing the panels.
Proposals would cause further unjustified harm to the significance of a group of heritage buildings with no demonstrated public benefit. The proposed extension by virtue of its size, position, appearance and materials, would have an adverse impact on the special architectural and historic interest of the listed building and would not preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the conservation area. The application is contrary to the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act, Section 16 of the NPPF, and Policies B1, BD1, CP6, D1, D2, D3, and HE1 of the Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan and should be refused or withdrawn.
(BPT Amended Response to Drawings Submitted 27/01/2023)
The revised drawings submitted 27/01/2023 would bring the proposed southern extension down from two storeys to one storey at lower ground floor level. We acknowledge that this would be an improvement on the previously proposed design as originally submitted. The reduction in height would go some way in reducing the perceived height, bulk, and massing of the extension along the east elevation, although proposals would continue to result in some increase of massing as perceived along the side elevation, particularly in wider-range east-west landscape views from Macaulay Buildings.
However, we maintain and reiterate strong concerns regarding the proposed treatment of the north garage elevation of the existing extension:
It has already been established that the garage as built is in breach of the original planning permission granted in 1972. The garage elevation was originally intended to sit level with the ground floor string course as shown in the original proposed drawings (see Planning & Heritage Statement, Appendix 3), but as built sits above the string course by approx. 300-400mm, resulting in a jarring visual misalignment with the main building. Further, it was indicated that the extension was to be finished in “natural stone block facing” across the front and side elevations; the side elevation has instead been finished in what appears to be a reconstituted stone of a disparate colour and finish to the rest of the building, which remains clearly visible in streetscape views from the east.
Rather than being a recessive addition, the garage extension sits flush with the principal façade and as such is an overly prominent feature in the streetscape, rather than being “set back” at road level as indicated on the 1972 plans.
The amended plans would continue to propose an increase in height of the northern elevation of the existing garage extension to nearly align with the sills of the first floor windows, further unbalancing the extension from its architectural context rather than addressing the previous planning breach and associated harm to a listed building.
Where works are being undertaken to the north elevation as part of the overall scheme, we therefore maintain that there is an ongoing opportunity to address the existing, detrimental deviation from the original 1972 plans, and bring the height of the extension down to align with or sit below the first floor string course as originally permitted. The floor level could be internally adjusted to account for any conflict with floor to ceiling heights.
There continues to be a further missed opportunity to recess the extension’s north elevation back from the principal façade and reduce its significance in streetscape views of a listed building.
We reiterate our previous conclusion: an extension in this location should be a visually recessive and low-profile addition to ensure subservience to the principal building, and to maintain the balanced form and appearance of the semi-detached villa, and gaps between the villas out into open countryside.
Should the scheme in its current form be considered permissible by the LPA, we would therefore strongly recommend that negotiation should encourage remedial works to bring the existing extension in line with its original planning permission, as well as recessing the north elevation back from the principal façade, to mitigate existing harm to a listed building and demonstrate an appropriate level of heritage gains proportionate to the scheme as proposed. This should be secured via further revised drawings and a Condition attached to any forthcoming listed building consent.