Thursday, May 3, 2018

News: Firbeck Hall restoration plans recommended for approval

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A planning application to restore Firbeck Hall, a late-sixteenth century country house in Rotherham, is being recommended for approval.

Rothbiz reported first in 2017 on fresh plans for the Grade II listed building that has remained unoccupied since it closed as a hospital in 1990. Previous owners and developers have been unable to bring the hall, which was built in 1594 by William Best, back into use.

Owners and developers Ashley Wildsmith and Mike Gibbs took on the dilapidated property in 2015 and brought forward plans for restoration, reuse and redevelopment. A detailed planning application was submitted to Rotherham Council based around renovation parts of the estate to create apartments and demolishing more modern extensions to be replaced by dwellings.

Set to be discussed by the planning board at Rotherham Council next week, the authority's planning officers are recommending that the proposals should be approved.

If they are approved, the £11m proposals will see the house and stable block restored as 24 apartments, securing the future of the two Grade II listed buildings which have been on SAVE's "at risk" register since 2003.

To help fund the restoration of the listed buildings, eight new-build dwellings and garages are planned to the west of the hall and one unique dwelling and garage is planned for the walled garden area.

A proposed biomass boiler has been removed from the plans.

Sophia Property Developments has submitted documents relating to the heritage of the site and the reasons for development in the Green Belt. Assessments on aspects such as ecology, trees, transport and flooding have also been included.

Historic England has welcomed the proposals for the redevelopment of the hall. A number of objections have been received relating to the number of dwellings on the site and access.

The planners conclude that very special circumstances exist to allow development in the Green Belt given that it would secure the long-term future of the site by restoring the listed buildings.

The development proposes to remove inappropriate extensions to the hall, replace the entire historic roof structure, replace damaged windows and doors and repair and restore architectural features such as the 1930's staircase.

A condition of the planning approval sets out what repairs would be carried out to the hall and stable block before any new build dwellings are constructed in the grounds.

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A report to the planning board states: "The proposal for the conversion of the Grade II Listed Hall and Stable Block is considered to be acceptable in design and conservation terms and is to be greatly welcomed in bringing this long derelict site back into use.

"The scale of the new development in the grounds is considered to be inappropriate development in the Green Belt. However, it is considered that the very special circumstances for the proposed development is justified by the enabling development proposed in the grounds, which would make up for the funding gap for the restoration of these Grade II Listed Buildings.

"The development is considered to be acceptable in nature conservation terms and impact on the wider landscape and protected trees, subject to the proposed conditions. The proposal is also considered to be acceptable in terms of drainage and highway safety."

In 1820 the property was let to the Peech family of the steelmakers Steel, Peech & Tozer of Templeborough in Rotherham. Further additional alterations occurred in 1935 when the hall was opened as a country club. At the outbreak of the Second World War the hall was used by Sheffield Royal Infirmary and the Royal Airforce.

It was later bought by the Miners Welfare Commission for use as a rehabilitation centre for injured miners and was last used as a rehabilitation centre for industrial injuries.

It is the period of ownership under Sheffield Stockbroker Cyril Nicholson that is of most interest. The Firbeck Hall Club opened in 1935 and was described as "one of its kind in the north of England."

An £80,000 revamp (a large sum at the time, around £5m in today's money) included art deco interiors, billiards room, ballroom, cocktail bars, restaurant and wine cellars. There was also the 18 hole golf course, tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool, fishing, riding and even an aerodrome.

The club, managed and served by staff brought in from Savoy, Adelphi and Picadilly Hotels in London, once featured in Vogue magazine and reputedly attracted guests including the then Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson.

Images: Sophia Property Developments Ltd / Building Link Design

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