Widcombe Studio, Alton Place, Widcombe, Bath
Widcombe Studio (also known as Lyncombe Annexe) is an unlisted late 19th century detached school building, formerly St Mark’s Infants School, situated within the Widcombe and Kennet & Avon Canal area of the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. It forms part of the streetscape setting of the 1830s Grade II St Mark’s Church, now St Mark’s Community Centre. Originally, the school building formed part of a pair with the Boys & Girls School to the south, but this was later demolished and rebuilt as the terrace on Alton Place in the late 20th century. The building is locally distinctive due to its Gothic style with mullioned windows and a gabled frontage, with an asymmetric projecting bay to the east. A late 19th/turn of the 20th century projecting extension for the school hall was later added to the west, likely forming the old school hall. Due to its distinctive architectural appearance, visual prominence in the streetscape, and evidential value as part of a historic school complex likely associated with the adjacent Grade II church, it is recognised as a Non-Designated Heritage Asset (NDHA). We note that the building has been vacant for the last two years.
BPT were previously invited to consult on proposals at pre-application stage. We indicated our initial in-principle support for the redevelopment of this vacant, deteriorating building to provide a contextually appropriate number of residential units. We are keen to see the NDHA retained and brought back into sustainable use. Considering the prevalent residential character of the area, we maintain that change of use to residential housing is acceptable, and highlight the associated gains to a heritage asset that has been vacant for several years, such as regular maintenance and repair.
Design & Appearance:
We note that the design of the proposed extension does not appear to deviate from the design proposals presented to us at pre-app consultation stage. Our previous pre-app comments have therefore not changed and are summarised below:
• The creation of a setback from the school’s historic façade and the reduction in roof height is welcomed. The extension is more legible as a newer, recessed addition to the original building. The apex of the historic roof would remain the highest and most prominent aspect of the development.
• The use of a more rhythmic and repetitious dormer form is welcomed and visually simplifies the elevational and treatment and how this flows into the roofscape. A contemporary approach is not considered unacceptable where this forms a modest addition that does not overwhelm or compete with the original building. We have previously expressed a preference for a more ‘honest’ addition to the building rather than a pastiche of a historic design or form.
• Further material details are recommended regarding the proposed use of Bath stone ashlar and clay pantiles to ensure a complementary finish against the original building.
• We previously highlighted the need for the comprehensive assessment and planning balance of the proposed rear extension and associated loss of the historic rear elevation. Whilst the significance of the north elevation may arguably be marginally lower due to its limited public visibility, it remains part of the historic building envelope and indicative of the building’s plan form. The Heritage Statement does not provide adequate assessment as to the north elevation’s existing appearance or contribution to the building’s overall significance (the ‘north elevation panoramic’ is incorrectly attributed and is actually the western elevation of the school hall). As such, whilst we recognise amendments have been made to limit the impact of development, the proposed rear extension would almost-entirely enclose the northern façade with resulting impact to appearance and plan form. The scale of development as viewed from the north would be significant. We therefore maintain greater consideration is required as to the cumulative impact of development on the material and aesthetic integrity of the building; we encourage options where a lighter touch interaction with the historic building can be achieved.
Heritage Impact to a NDHA:
• We previously provided the following assessment of the significance of the site: “Historically, the building formed part of a multi-building school complex associated with St Mark’s Church. Following the demolition of the Boys & Girls School to the south, Lyncombe Annexe is evidentially significant as a remainder of a much wider interconnected group of 19th century buildings. The social and historic interest of the school complex has been compounded into the surviving buildings where historic fabric, architectural detailing, and plan form have been retained. We therefore maintain that it is integral to sustain the historic, social, and evidential significance of the area as well as the interconnected setting of a Grade II building. Consequently, further research into the history of the site and the building as existing is essential to form a well-balanced judgement in order to balance the future use of the building against the retention and enhancement of historic fabric, form, and layout as best as possible.”
• With regards to heritage impact, we previously accepted the proposed removal of the later school hall extension at pre-app stage in 2017, and concluded that this would open up and enhance the views to and from St Marks Church. However, there has been an ongoing discrepancy in the dating and associated assessment of the school hall through multiple pre-apps, first identified as a 1960s addition, then amended to a 1930s addition. The school hall can now be identified from historic map progressions as having been added 1888-1903 and therefore much closer to the approximate construction date of the original building in c1852. It adheres to the established Gothic style of the building with mullioned windows, gabled end, and arched openings at lower ground floor level.
• We have some concerns regarding the apparent absence of assessment of the heritage value of the school hall as part of the NDHA. Focus instead remains primarily on the hall’s appearance in the wider setting of the Grade II St Mark’s Church: “Views of the church tower are currently obscured by the Lyncombe Annexe hall extension […] the demolition of this extension would allow the vista to the St Mark’s church to be opened up, a real and positive gain for the local setting.” Considering the school hall’s architectural coherence with the main school building as well as its use as part of the original school complex in this area which has already been greatly eroded, we conclude that it may be attributed with shared evidential and historic value with the main building.
• We therefore have some concerns regarding the proposed demolition of the hall and associated harm to a NDHA, which does not appear to have been adequately assessed as part of the NDHA within the Heritage Statement We emphasise that the historic value of all areas of the building, as well as associated structures which may form part of an interconnected complex, should be comprehensively assessed as part of the design process and weighed against the identified public and heritage benefits.
• It is worth considering previous examples of permitted applications for the residential conversion of the building without the loss of the school hall (see 07/02602/FUL). We therefore question whether demolition is necessary to secure the “optimum viable use” (NPPF) of the building, or whether a scheme with greater retention and sustainable reuse of historic fabric may be possible.
• There is a lack of reference or further information as to the proposed removal of the northern outbuilding, which is indicated to be contemporary in construction date to the western extension and appears to relate to the interconnected school use of the site based on age, shared ownership, and proximity of location.
• We are supportive of the indicated retention of the existing boundary wall, which appears to be of traditional construction (likely late 19th century) and follows the historic boundary line of the site. We recommend any details of repair works as required are included as part of proposals to ensure a sympathetic treatment to a prominent historic streetscape feature.
• We continue to recognise the sustainable, well-connected location of the proposed development, close to a public transport node and walking distance to local amenities. Consideration of car free development is welcomed in light of the Climate Emergency. However, the proposed on-site parking provision (13 spaces) does fall significantly short of the 26.4 space minimum requirement set out in Policy ST7. Considering the constrained location of the site and existing pressures on on-street parking, we maintain concerns with further parking overspill and resulting detriment to the visual and residential amenities of this area. Whilst the transport statement does indicate good site connectivity, we emphasise that measures should be taken to curtail additional vehicles in the area and prioritise use of sustainable transport via a Management Plan. Proposals should seek to mitigate possible parking impacts as part of the lifespan of the development post-delivery.
• We note that PBSA use is indicated as a viable alternative with more limited parking requirements; we do NOT consider this an appropriate solution to issues of parking management on this site.
• We maintain our previous comments on the need for a Management Plan to ensure the long-term maintenance of the rear communal garden and protection of trees.
• The scheme would comprise 22 single bed apartments and we therefore have some concerns that development would not demonstrate adequate housing mix of different types and tenures, contrary to Policy CP10.
• At pre-app, we encouraged the provision of affordable housing where possible to meet demand for lower income individuals, and to address a significant shortfall of suitable affordable provision within Bath. Policy CP9 requires the provision of 40% affordable housing (8.8 dwellings). We are therefore disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken for the provision of accessible and sustainable affordable housing within the city centre to meet significant affordable shortfall. It is not apparent that this development demonstrates “exceptional build or other development costs”; referenced factors (eg. Covid, Brexit) are considered to have a national impact on development viability and therefore cannot be considered to be exceptional.