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Parish Makes Further Plea As Borough Decides to Sell Gunpowder Mills Lodge House

A Grade II listed house that was once a part of the historic Chilworth Gunpowder Mills looks set to be finally sold by its owner, Guildford Borough Council.

The future over the single-story building has been in the balance since 2016 when local residents, members of St Martha’s and Shalford Parish Councils, community group Chilworth2gether and the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Group, called on the council to think again.

West Lodge in Blacksmith Lane, Chilworth.

The council agreed to give time for a working party from the community to find a way that West Lodge, in Blacksmith Lane, could pay its way as a community resource, perhaps used an educational centre.

West Lodge is within the historic middle works part of the gunpowder mills site, all owned by the borough council. It is the only building to have remained in near continuous use since the gunpowder works closed in 1920.

However, the house is just outside the area of the Chilworth Gunpowder works that is a scheduled ancient monument. Commenting to The Guildford Dragon NEWS, the council said: “It [West Lodge] requires significant investment to bring it up to modern day standards.

“The location and size of the building makes it more suitable for owner-occupation and disposal is considered the most appropriate solution to bring it back into use.

“Current planning policy protects the building for use as a residential property. Its listed status ensures that the building’s restoration is in keeping with the area’s built heritage.”

“Changing the use of the building raises a number of concerns that could impact on the natural and cultural heritage of the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills scheduled ancient monument, such as an increased need for car parking and visitor facilities.”

St Martha Parish Council is disappointed with the council’s decision. It has written to the borough council expressing that it has not been able to find a way of working with the council, together with the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty organisation, to find a future for West Lodge, other than “the intention to dispose of it irrevocably on the open market”.

The parish council has asked the borough council to re-consider its decision, pointing out the following:

1. West Lodge is a heritage asset in its own right and should be retained for the benefit of the Chilworth community, the wider community and for future generations.

2. The parish council feels strongly that the separation of West Lodge from the Gunpowder Mills Heritage Site is inappropriate and Guildford Borough Council has under-valued the cultural importance of both the site and West Lodge as part of that site.

3. The parish council is not persuaded that Guildford Borough Council has fully considered all the possible options.

4. Given that West Lodge has its own very special role at the main entrance to the site, the parish council accepts that Guildford Borough Council is obliged to come up with a solution that is cost effective – however it is the parish council’s view that this could be achieved by residential letting or commercial use as an alternative to outright and irreversible disposal. St Martha Parish Council’s preferred option is that the building should be retained by Guildford Borough Council, thus allowing it to still retain ownership and control of the building.

5. The pre-planning advice the parish council received on West Lodge led the council to believe that there would be severe planning and parking restrictions and therefore the council will be monitoring carefully any possible future planning applications for West Lodge.

6. It will also be looking to see that there is no over-development of the area.

The parish council adds: “Once Guildford Borough Council no longer owns West Lodge, the lodge is lost from the Gunpowder Mills site forever and a precious heritage building is no longer owned by the borough. As custodians of the future the borough should do whatever it can to retain such buildings.”

St Martha Parish Council said it also regrets that the constraints put on it, both through planning restrictions and Guildford Borough Council’s requirement for full commercial viability, have prevented it taking on management of the building itself for community use.

It adds: “The community looks to the council to consider the significance and value of the scheduled ancient monuments in its borough and, in particular, not to lose focus over the developing long-term management of the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills site.”

West Lodge.

Cllr Richard Billington, Guildford Borough Council’s lead councillor for rural economy, countryside, parks and leisure said: “After a year exploring various options the working group has informed us that due to the constraints that the site presents, it was impossible for them to guarantee the future financial viability of the building and therefore they concluded that this would prove too great a liability for St Martha Parish Council.

“As a consequence of this decision, our intention is to now take the necessary steps to sell the building with a view to it becoming an occupied residential property. We have previously acknowledged the work that the members of the working group have completed over the past year and thanked them for this.”

See also this story previously published.

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