Plea for Sidmouth’s ‘historic Knowle hotel’ to be spared

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7712-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7712-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

A national conservation group has weighed in on the debate over the future development of Knowle by making a last-ditch plea for the site’s former hotel building to be saved.

Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) has written to PegasusLife urging the retirement community firm to convert the 19th-century building instead of bulldozing it to make way for 118 apartments.

Director of SAVE, Clementine Cecil, says the potential development currently proposed ‘would represent a devastating blow to the history and character of Sidmouth’.

But Pegasus insists it has ‘carefully considered’ the history and heritage of the site in its designs for the parkland and current East Devon District Council offices.

The developer says it plans to preserve some of the historic features of the three-storey hotel building for display in Sidmouth Museum.

In her letter to Pegasus, Ms Cecil argues that restoring and converting older buildings is not always a more expensive option than razing a site and starting fresh.

She said: “There are many precedents throughout the UK where historic buildings have been updated, at affordable costs, and SAVE sees no reason why this cannot be done here. In our view, Knowle is eminently capable of conversion and re-use. Although re-use of the existing building may not produce the same level of return as new-build, this does not mean that it is not practical or economic to do so. SAVE urges PegasusLife to reconfigure these designs and revise their intentions for the site in order to preserve the building and existing amenity for the local community and wider public.”

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Pegasus unveiled a revised masterplan for the 4.7-acre site at a series of public exhibitions last month, which include 118 apartments for over 60s and a café/restaurant which would be open to the public.

The former hotel is not subject to any legal conservation protection, although an attempt was made by a group of Sidmouth residents in 2012 to have the building listed.

The bid was ultimately unsuccessful, with English Heritage deeming the plot to be below the threshold required for listed status, but officials did note that it was a site of ‘clear local interest’.

Emma Webster, public policy manager for Pegasus, said: “The history and heritage of the site has been carefully considered throughout the design of the development of our proposals at Knowle. Unfortunately, over time the historic elements contained within the council building have been watered-down or lost. This is reflected in the comments made by English Heritage in their evaluation of Knowle and its park for listing.

“PegasusLife is working with a number of different groups, including Sidmouth Museum, to preserve important features, including the marble fireplaces and delft tiles. We are also exploring ways in which the Pugin-style wallpaper could be removed so that it can be displayed at the museum for the enjoyment of the town.”

Pegasus aims to submit a formal planning application for Knowle next month.