Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission has been in high level discussions with Brighton & Hove City Council concerning its proposal for the historic Brighton General Hospital site to be designated as the city’s 35th Conservation Area. The reasons are many. It is the last almost complete “workhouse complex” left in the country, the Kitchener Indian Hospital from 1916-20 where hundreds of wounded sepoys were nursed and then the Brighton Municipal Hospital, and has been a landmark across the city for 154 years.
Backing for the idea has proved unanimous from the many local amenity groups that have so far replied to the presentation. They include the Regency Society, Hove Civic Society, Brunswick Town Association, North Laine Community Association, Ovingdean Residents Presevation Soc, and Rottingdean Preservation Soc. This enables the proposal to be put forward for public consultation. Save Brighton General Action Group has also been positive.
Details of that presentation are below;
REQUEST FOR THE CONSIDERATION AND SUPPORT FOR THE BRIGHTON GENERAL HOSPITAL SITE BE DESIGNATED AS THE 35th CONSERVATION AREA
The site is the last virtually intact Workhouse complex left in the country, occupying a large acreage at the top of Elm Grove. The first buildings were opened in 1867 (area 1 on the attached plan) finishing before 1900 (area 2 on the attached plan). Although the Arundel Building was listed Grade II in 1999 the rest of the buildings were not. However they do have a very important “group value” for the site. See attached annotation plan. The proposed CA would be Area 1 (amber) and Area 2 (pea green) on the attached BHCC Listed Building Curtilage Map dated 10/01/2007. Area 3 (blue) would be excluded as SCFT plans indicate the northern part of this area will be the site of the new Health Hub.
Not only is there architectural value to these buildings where local vernacular materials were used, but the not listed buildings’ past uses were very specific, such as the Lunatic block, and Asylum Wings, and the Bread Token house. Moreover, the site has an unequalled social history. A workhouse, then in 1916 the Kitchener Indian Hospital for hundreds of wounded Sepoys, Subedars were placed at the Pavilion and Dome. Then in 1920 it reverted back to the workhouse, in 1934 the Brighton Municipal Hospital (run by Brighton Corporation) and finally it became the NHS hospital in about 1950.
The palatial listed Arundel Building does not give the true picture of what life was really like in the workhouse, other buildings do that.
At present technically all could be demolished without needing permission other than the listed building. I have met with Lucie Carayon the director of Ancient Monuments Society. I have also had discussions with Historic England while on their recent visit to Brighton, who share our concerns that more of the site is not protected.
Discussions have also taken place about the consideration of more buildings being listed, particularly for five others not including the historic flint walls and the Lodge. However my view is that this action would impinge on any proposals for the site’s ideal conversion into low cost housing, thus the formation of a Conservation Area will allow for much greater flexibility for plans for conversion but also protect the site in the meanwhile. A CA would allow for greater examination about what could be retained for conversion and what could be demolished, with a view to allowing sympathetic new build on areas such as on part of the present large car parks.But still maintaining some open spaces. The mathematics of major demolition and rebuild will not result in low cost affordable housing
The site’s designation as a Conservation Area does not mean the buildings are preserved but are protected, subject to demolition consent being granted. This procedure forms the legal part of the planning process for development in a conservation area.
The key is, that once designated as a CA, demolition consent is necessary for any structure within that area, whereas at present no permission is needed for demolition. Even the historic flint walls are technically not protected though some believe they are deemed to be in the curtilage of the listed building.
A similar situation occurred with the Royal Alex in 2005 when I started that campaign .The 1881 Lainson building was not listed but in a CA thus demolition consent was needed. The developer wished to remove all buildings on the site.The outcome was that demolition consent was refused for the main building but the group of buildings at its rear, after in-depth discussions with the community, were given permission to be demolished.
I would cite another example with which I was involved being a member of CAG. The Carlton Hill Conservation Area. This was the last designated CA in the city in 2008. With the threat of the new Amex development subsuming the Mighell Street farmhouse and even seeing its demolition, together with the Thwaites Garage site adjacent ear marked for offices, there was a need to create a CA to give a greater control over what could be done in the 1 1/2 acre area which included Tilbury Place. The result was that the farmhouse was secured and on the garage site next door there has recently been completed a very sensible housing development, The application came to CAG in many forms but the result, which is now satisfactory, respects the setting of the listed farmhouse’s position within the CA and adheres to CAG’s request to reinstate the historic flint wall on Carlton Hill. The result would have been much more difficult to achieve if this area had not been designated as a Conservation Area.
On Tuesday 5th May I presented the proposal to CAG at its monthly meeting. The result, I am pleased to say, was a unanimous support for the initiative. The city’s amenity groups have been written to, and amongst those the Regency Society, Rottingdean, Ovingdean, Kemp Town Society North Laine, Brunswick Town, Montpelier and Clifton Hill and Hove Civic have already given their agreement to the idea, with others yet to reply. Membership structures are different in each group but of the mentioned collection of societies we calculate they represent some nine to ten thousand people.
Thus,we have an excellent opportunity of satisfying the needs of the community as well as securing the city’s built and social heritage for future generations.
Roger V. Amerena
Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission
Brighton & Hove City Council Conservation Advisory Group