Fringe Box



Opinion: Will Selling West Lodge Really Make A Dent In The Council’s Deficit?

Opinion by Gavin Morgan

Guildford Heritage Forum

West Lodge, Blacksmith Lane, Chilworth.

On Tuesday, February 20, Guildford Borough Council passed a resolution to sell West Lodge in Chilworth. The argument for selling is financial.

Previous council administrations have neglected West Lodge since it ceased to be occupied in 2008. There is now a large repair bill which the council hopes it can pass on to someone else and make a profit of £175,000 in the process.

But the lodge is an important part of our heritage and I believe the council has got this badly wrong.

And if the council can spend £4 million on the revamp of the council chamber and offices, £100,000 on the toilets in the council offices, £1.2 million on “The Village” and £250,000 on 48 Quarry Street, then restoring West Lodge is not necessary out of the question.

The main arguments against selling are:

1. It contravenes heritage policy: Heritage and open spaces are given national protection in law for a reason. West Lodge is an historic Grade II building and a “key part of the Gunpowder Mills” scheduled monument (according to the council’s own conservation plan). Selling it off represents the sale not just of our heritage but a slice of a public open space.

2. It risks ruining the entrance to a public amenity: if the poor state of the building results in demolition then the site will no longer advertise the historic trail and the entrance will be reduced to a narrow corridor.

3. It is impractical: West Lodge is in fact two small properties awkwardly joined and on different levels. The plot is long and narrow with no parking at the front and no direct access to the rear other than across the scheduled monument. Even demolition of West Lodge would not resolve this problem. It is not a good investment because it is squeezed into a scheduled monument. It will be complicated to sell and there are other options.

Having looked at all the information I can on this issue I have written the following report which provides all the evidence and detail.

West Lodge is at the entrance to the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Scheduled Monument.

My observations are:

The council has not considered all options.

West Lodge should be retained due to its importance as a Grade II historic monument and integral part of the nationally recognised Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Scheduled Monument.

Selling West Lodge could be seen as selling off a slice of public open space – a precedent that must not be set.

Expecting a buyer to restore West Lodge is impractical.

Allowing a buyer to demolish part or all of West Lodge is unethical and problematic.

Expecting the local community to take on the costs is unrealistic.

The only viable option is for Guildford Borough Council to take responsibility for the care of West Lodge. It should pick up the cost but at the same time it should investigate how much the community can help with fund raising (a modest amount) and what grants are available.

It should also ensure that the town gets value for money in terms of the building’s use. A lock-up for forest schools, events and the volunteers who save the borough money by caring for the woodland are obvious uses. It is hard to imagine commercial uses but these should be investigated.

At the end of the day it is about choice. The council should choose to live up to its responsibilities. Running a town is not cheap and sometimes it is necessary to spend money.

It was necessary to spend £4 million on the revamp of the council chamber and offices. It was necessary to spend £100,000 on the toilets in the council offices. It was necessary to spend £1.2 million on “The Village”. It is necessary to spend £250,000 on 48 Quarry Street.

And it is necessary to spend some money to restore West Lodge and care for our parks and heritage.

Plaque on the side wall of West Lodge.

Why the decision to sell West Lodge must be reviewed:

The council does not appear to have looked at all options. I have asked to see the detailed reports and discussion that was documented but these have been withheld by Guildford Borough Council on the grounds of confidentiality.

However, it appears that the council passed the responsibility for exploring options to St Martha Parish Council. This was a big ask of the smallest parish in the borough with 300 dwellings and just over 600 residents.

The Executive Report (February 20, 2018) claims: “A project group was set up by St Martha Parish Council to look at all future possibilities for West Lodge”.

However, it appears the council ensured that it was not possible to look at “all possibilities”. It insisted that the parish council lease the building and pay the £100,000, or so, needed for its restoration and the parish council was also not allowed to recover this money by subletting. Options were limited and definitely not explored in full.

Information board with leaflets for the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills site at its entrance, adjacent to West Lodge.

West Lodge is an important historic building:

The heritage argument for West Lodge is clear and strong and is explained by Guildford Borough Council in its Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Conservation Management Plan. Consider these extracts:

“The Gunpowder Mills at Chilworth in Surrey is a Scheduled Monument (No.31397) and a site of national importance in the history of gunpowder manufacture.”

“The scheduled area covers virtually the entire GBC-owned land but one small area (the West Lodge: see Gazetteer No.46) is excluded. This was because the West Lodge was an occupied dwelling and is listed Grade II. The entire GBC owned site, including West Lodge, is within the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Conservation Area”.

“Policy 5.1: Retain West Lodge: The West Lodge is a key part of the Gunpowder Mills and should remain a part of the site in order to promote the wider understanding of the complex as well as potentially providing a facility at the site.”

“Protection of Setting: The setting and wider landscape of the Gunpowder Mills is of considerable significance and enhances the value of the site.”

Only last week, at its Executive meeting, GBC confirmed it had concerns about a proposal from St Martha’s for more visitors because of the “effect on the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the site”.

Recent research backed up by Heritage England has also shown that West Lodge is in fact two buildings both of which date from the time that the Gunpowder Mills were active.

West Lodge is, in fact, two buildings.

Sale of public open space sets an unwelcome precedent:

The decision to sell West Lodge unwittingly sets a worrying precedent that should be opposed.

The council is, in effect, creaming off a slice of a public open space and selling it for profit. Section 104 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 prevents councils from doing this without permission from the Secretary of State, but that is what GBC plans to do.

The council laid out its plans in the Executive report for the meeting on February 20. It intends to ask the Secretary of State for permission to dispose of the property.

“The Property is subject to restrictive covenants that restrict the development of the land. Section 104 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 194 requires that in order to dispose or appropriate the land to a different statutory purpose, the council must first obtain the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s consent.

“The land is partly held by the council as public open space and, by appropriating this part for planning purposes, the restrictive covenants will be overridden.”

A view inside through a window facing the footpath.

Expecting a buyer to restore West Lodge is impractical:

An attractive option is for the council to uphold the “preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the site” and insist that any buyer restores West Lodge, with perhaps minor additions, to turn it into a modern home.

However, this is not practical as the building plot is narrow (about five meters wide) and the building is in poor condition. There is hardly any room for parking at the front and no direct access to the back (i.e. it is only accessible across the scheduled monument).

It is not a good investment and it is more likely that an investor will want to make drastic alterations and the council is currently considering removing covenants that restrict building.

As Cllr David Wright (Con, Tillingbourne) pointed out in a note to the Executive meeting: “It is doubtful whether anyone prepared to invest £180,000 purchasing West Lodge and prepared to spend an estimated £100,000 in undertaking essential repairs will do so without getting some assurances about the possibility of extending the building quite considerably.

“This will be a matter of delicate judgement given its location adjacent to a scheduled national monument site. Given this location and its current unusable size, I think that the views of our planning department will become very pertinent and ought perhaps to be taken into account in advance of putting it on the market.”

A side door.

Allow some or complete rebuilding is unethical and problematic:

Let’s imagine the council does the unthinkable and allows the demolition of part or most of West Lodge. To me, it seems the council believes, inaccurately, that only the front building is original to the Gunpowder Works.

Demolition would definitely have an “effect on the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the site”. West Lodge introduces the scheduled monument and is a visible sign that this is an historic site. It needs preserving and better interpretation, but if it were to go then there would be no sign that this is an important historical site.

However, from an investor’s point of view this is still not a good option, in my opinion. Yes, we see people build on awkward sites in the show Grand Designs on TV, but there are presumably plenty of other interesting challenges an investor with money could choose.

Access for building is still difficult. Permission would need to be sort for construction vehicles to cross the scheduled monument via the original gates.

The plot is still narrow with no direct access to the back. There would be regular visitors down one side and the neighbouring house is jammed against the other side. The potential for disputes during building and afterwards is immense.

Above all, this raises worrying ethical issues. By going to the Secretary of State to reverse the protection under Section 104 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the council is selling off part of our public open spaces for profit. This is a principle that should be opposed.

St Martha Parish Council takes over West Lodge:

This has not worked so far. St Martha Parish Council has spent the last two years trying to find a solution but the council has virtually made this impossible.

But let’s imagine the council changed its policy and worked openly with the community to find a solution without any self-imposed restrictions. Could West Lodge be restored with grants and public money and then put to commercial use as an office or holiday let?

It is a nice idea but does not seem possible. With a precept of around £12,000 per year St Martha Parish Council does not have the budget to support a building like West Lodge.

It would not be possible to make up the different with grants or fundraising. It could contribute but would not be the entire solution. The biggest issue I can see is the fact that West Lodge is two buildings awkwardly joined together. An amount of sensitive rebuilding would be required to turn it into a building that can have commercial potential.

Gavin Morgan: “Guildford Borough Council should take responsibility for West Lodge.”

Conclusion: Council cares for West Lodge:

Looking at all the options I come back to the start and believe the council should take responsibility for West Lodge.

It should pay for its restoration and get some use out of it.

It could be an office or store for use by the parish council, forest schools, or the volunteers who save the borough money by caring for the woodland.

The council should apply for grants and work with the community to get extra money (even if modest) through fundraising activities.

We should, of course, be mindful of the cost and get some perspective from how money is spent elsewhere.

As I said earlier, the council has found million of pounds for other schemes that suit them, why are they so intent to flog off a real heritage asset the value of which cannot be measured just in pounds and pence?

The full article with further pictures, diagrams and links to relevant documents can be seen on the website of the Guildford Heritage Forum.

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3 Responses to Opinion: Will Selling West Lodge Really Make A Dent In The Council’s Deficit?

  1. Marion Taylor-Cotter Reply

    March 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Information centre/cafe would be worth consideration.

  2. Donna Collinson Reply

    March 9, 2018 at 12:52 am

    Apply for the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore West Lodge and create a visitor centre as was successfully done at The Spike in Charlotteville, and The Watts Gallery, Compton.

  3. H Pannell Reply

    March 12, 2018 at 10:07 am

    In reply to the two comments here: firstly, it’s all very well, but these things have to be manned; secondly, and more importantly, I’m not sure if those commenting are familiar with the area, but could they please let us, the local residents, know where you’d expect people to park.

    The Spike in Charlottesville and Watts Gallery, in particular, have extensive, purpose-made parking. Parking at West Lodge is non-existent. We have had many issues with people parking inconsiderately in the very narrow lane whilst visiting the gunpowder works.

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