7 Widcombe Crescent, Widcombe, Bath
7 Widcombe Crescent forms part of a Grade I early 19th century crescent terrace of townhouses, some of which are now subdivided into residential apartments, by Charles Harcourt Masters, situated within the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The crescent presents a balanced, 3 ½ storey principal façade with alternating single and three bay window treatments across all floors, although there have been later alterations to the southern end which somewhat visually unbalance the homogenous architectural interest of the crescent. The terrace retains a uniform boundary treatment with a shared raised pavement, front lightwells with wrought iron railing surrounds, and examples of external stepped access to the lower ground floor and pavement vaults. Whilst 7 Widcombe Crescent retains a gate in its pavement railings indicative of historical access via the front lightwell, the lightwell steps have since been removed.
In light of the Climate Emergency, BPT is generally supportive of the principle of sensitive retrofit and energy efficiency measures which would ensure the sustainable, long-term use of a listed or traditional building. This must be appropriately balanced against sustaining the special architectural and historic interest of a listed building which conserving and enhancing the identified character and appearance of its historic context and the wider conservation area.
We are therefore supportive of the opportunity for the use of solar slates on the site. This remains an innovative technological alternative to solar panels that have very limited existing use in Bath; one of the few comparable examples is the permitted scheme for the installation of ‘Thermoslate’ at 19 Great Stanhope Street (see 20/00239/LBA). The use of solar slates would help to disguise installation and seamlessly integrate it into the existing roofscape with limited visual impact. Installation on the inner roof valley would be almost entirely concealed from public view and therefore would be of negligible harm to the appearance of a listed building.
We recommend that samples of the proposed solar slate are provided for greater clarification as to the proposed appearance and finish of this system. Where the solar slates would be installed on a visible roof slope on the garage, it is assumed that this would be relatively compatible with the newer finish of the recently-resurfaced slate roof (see 14/00502/FUL).
It is proposed to install a “platform lift” within the front lightwell as part of works to improve the accessibility of access between pavement level and the lower ground floor. However, from the drawings provided it appears that the lift would follow the line of the proposed cantilevered stone stairs and would use the existing gate at pavement level without requiring a separate access point. On these grounds it appears that the proposed lift is more akin to a stairlift and as such would be a comparatively less intrusive addition, which would not require a separate opening in the pavement railings or wall/floor fixings which may compromise historic fabric.
BPT recognises the increasing need for Bath’s historic building stock to meet modern accessibility requirements to secure ongoing use, and allow for access and engagement by those with mobility restrictions or additional mobility requirements. This would therefore constitute a public benefit by allowing for wheelchair access between the pavement and lower ground floor, although this remains to be considered against potential harm to the building as part of the overall planning balance.
Considering the Grade I status of the building, we consider that further detail is required as to the proposed works, in particular the proposed thickness, profile, and finish of the proposed front lightwell stair balustrade and railings. The lift appears to be supported by the handrail and/or a central rail through the balustrade which would likely need to be of a greater thickness to accommodate for additional loading. We therefore have some concerns that the proposed stepped access would be of a heavier visual profile in comparison with the finer examples across the crescent and as such would result in some aesthetic discordance to the group value of the terrace.
We question whether there is an opportunity for other alternatives to be considered, such as an internal stairlift, where this would sustain the aesthetic homogeneity of the shared crescent façade.
We note that in relation to the proposed treatment of the vaults, it is indicated that following cleaning either a new limewash or “Keim breathable mineral paint system” would be applied to the internal face. BPT expresses a preference for the use of a limewash as a more reversible alternative. Keim paint, whilst a more durable system, is also significantly more difficult to remove from historic stonework should this be required in future. Limewash also has the additional benefit of being applied in multiple, thinner coats through which the texture of the historic stonework of the vaults’ interior would remain legible.