The Rise and Fall of Abbey Park House – Part 1

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Abbey Park House was built between 1802 and 1803. The design has been attributed to Robert Balfour, a local architect who designed other villas in the surrounding countryside. This stone and rendered building, which comprised Regency, Victorian and Edwardian elements, was accorded Category B Listed Building status in 1971 (see listing 40837). Importance was attached to the preservation of Abbey Park House because it had played an important role in the historic development of St Andrews. It had been used by St Leonards School to provide a boarding house for students. The site remained largely unchanged until 1967, save for the organisation of the open space into two playing fields and two tennis courts. The orchard was reduced to a third of its original size. After it was vacated in 2001 Abbey Park House fell into disrepair, was set on fire, vandalised, and placed on the Buildings at Risk register in 2007.

The Preliminary Conservation Statement (2012) prepared By Austin-Smith Lord on behalf of RHL advised that ABBEY PARK HOUSE was a regionally important building with a high level of cultural significance. In June 2012 Knightsbridge, a subsidiary of Robertson Homes Ltd (RHL), issued a Design and Access Statement which confirmed that Abbey Park House would be converted into a Spa Hotel, and that the main access would be via the existing road which served St Leonards Field House and Kilrymont House. This road would be extended through the site to link with the secondary road access which served St Nicholas House.

During 2013 there were mounting pressures to secure planning permission for the conversion of Abbey Park Houseto a boutique hotel, to find a hotel operator, and to negotiate vehicular access via the western entrance from Abbey Walk. According to Knightsbridge, the future of Abbey Park House depended on the speed which planning permission was granted for the proposed hotel. The site investigations undertaken between June and November, however, confirmed that part of the building was found to be in danger of imminent collapse, and was demolished by Robertson Homes Ltd (RHL). Permission was then granted for the remaining sections of the building to be demolished in January 2014 (13/03627/LBC).

The Protection and Enhancement of Listed Buildings:

Provisions in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Area) (Scotland) Act 1997, the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, and the Buildings (Scotland) Act 2003 enable Planning Authorities to exercise control over developments which affect listed buildings. Applications for the demolition of listed buildings will usually be assessed against the importance of the building, its condition, economic viability in an alternative use, and wider public benefits. Planning authorities can also consult Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the non-departmental public body responsible for carrying out planning functions in respect of the historic environment and advising Ministers on historic environment policy.  Historic Scotland, however, failed to offer any observations when later consulted on the proposed Abbey Park planning applications.

The importance of the Abbey Park listed buildings, gates, gate piers and stone walls was demonstrated when two associated appeals against Fife Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for alterations were dismissed in 2009 (PPA/250/817). The reporter ruled that the proposed alterations would have a serious adverse effect on the entry to the listed buildings. In 2019, however, Fife Council granted listed building consent for alterations to the access to Abbey Walk which included the relocation of one gate pier (18/02980/LBC) and planning permission for the proposed alterations (18/02978/FULL). Historic Scotland failed to offer any comments when consulted by Fife Council on the various applications submitted by RHL.

Development Planning Policy Framework:

A succession of strategic and local development plans have stated that opportunities for hotel and associated commercial development should be promoted. The St Andrews and East Fife Local Plan (2009) stated that the town’s economy was based on golf and tourism, supported by the university.   The St Leonards and adjacent Memorial Hospital sites were deemed to constitute a windfall development opportunity. While both sites were deemed suitable locations for a hotel the St Leonards site was designated for residential use, class 7 offices and a hotel (STA 07).  This site was selected because Abbey Park House was the site’s principal character element and, subject to restoration, was identified as potential hotel in the St Leonards Strategic Development Framework (2011).

Development Management:

The different operational planning timelines of the Scottish Government, Fife Council and Robertson Homes Ltd explain in part why the development of the Abbey Park Site has been both protracted and complex.  For example, RHL commenced   work on the site some ten years before the St Leonards Strategic Development Framework was approved by the Council in November 2011, whilst the Fife Local Development Plan was not approved until September 2017. This helps to explain why over thirty applications were submitted by RHL, between 2002 and 2018, in order to secure planning permission for improved access from Abbey Walk, the refurbishment of St Nicholas House and St Leonards Fields House, and the construction of new blocks of mixed tenure residential apartments. Despite all this planning activity the future of the former Abbey Park House site is still in doubt after the N E Fife Planning Committee refused planning permission for the erection of a hotel, student accommodation, with associated access, landscaping and works (18/02977/FULL) on 25th June 2019.

Abbey Park House Planning Applications:

The submission of a series of planning applications for sites located in St Leonards highlighted the need for a masterplan and/or a development brief. When conditional planning permission was granted in 2011 for the erection of a residential development and associated works (10/03316/FULL) the ABBEY PARK HOUSE site was omitted because the application only specified residential accommodation. It was envisaged that the hotel facility would form the subject of a separate application and be secured by a legal agreement. Applications were submitted seeking permission for a change of use, and alterations to Abbey Park House to form a 47bedroom hotel with associated restaurant, leisure and conference facilities ((12/02081/FULL) and for listed building consent for the partial demolition of the building (12/02239/LBC). These applications were approved on 28th November 2012 and 14th January 2013 respectively.

In July 2013 applications were submitted seeking planning permission and listed building consent to convert Abbey Park House to a student residence facility (13/02200/FULL) and (13/02203/LBC). The main building was to be retained with substantial remodelling of the interior. The ‘Stables’ wing was to be demolished to make way for a bedroom block. It was envisaged that this would enable work to commence on protecting the Regency and Edwardian parts of the building over the forthcoming winter. This proposed major change reflected the up-dated hotel marketing overview undertaken by Jones Lang Lasalle which confirmed that no offers had been received from prospective hotel operators (October 2013). It also reflected the advice received from Knight Frank that in view of the under-supply of purpose-built student accommodation in St Andrews the provision of private sector purpose-built student accommodation would certainly help to ease pressure on HMO stock in the town (23rd October 2013}. These applications were subsequently withdrawn in March 2014.  Listed building consent was sought in December 2013 for the demolition of Abbey Park House and the stables block (13/03627/LBC) because the Regency part of the building had already been demolished due to its imminent risk of collapse. Listed building consent for the demolition of the rest of ABBEY PARK HOUSE was granted in January 2014 (13/0362/LBC).

                                                                                                                                                                                 Michael Collins

Part 2 will review what steps were taken to protect Abbey Park House after it was vacated in 2001.


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