The Rise and Fall of Abbey Park House – Part 2

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The brief history set out in Part 1 highlighted some of the problems which often arise when a listed building falls vacant and decay sets in. It also poses questions on the effectiveness of the Scottish planning system, the roles of Historic Environment Scotland and the local authorities, who are the designated custodians of our architectural and historic heritage, and the aspirations of developers who own vacant heritage buildings. A survey undertaken by the Scottish Civic Trust in 2007 confirmed that 89 Category B listed buildings (55.6%) in Fife that were deemed to be at risk had deteriorated significantly since they were last inspected. Part 2 draws heavily upon Fife Council’s planning portal and responses to Freedom of Information requests, and the additional information supplied by Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

The following photographs depict the stone carved arch and illustrate the fine architectural quality of the interior design of abbey park house.

Source: Listed Building Consent (Ref:000077634001) Supporting Statement: Barton Willmore on behalf of Robertson Homes

ABBEY PARK HOUSE (APH) CRITICAL TIMELINE

2001 Robertson Homes Ltd (RHL) now owned APH which was left vacant until demolished.

2007 October APH placed on the Buildings at Risk Register.

October Listed building consent granted for conversion to a dwelling house.

2008 Scottish Civic Trust Buildings at Risk Survey of Fife.

2010 APH placed on market for conversion to a hotel/offices.

2012 November 28th Permission to convert APH to a 47-bedroom hotel with restaurant and conference facilities.

2013 January 14th Listed building consent granted for associated works and partial demolition of ‘stables wing’.

March Asbestos Refurbishment Survey

May – November Three specialist structural engineering surveys undertaken.

November 22nd Building Control and RHL notified that APH could not be saved.

December 3rd Demolition warrant for APH issued.

December 4th Dangerous Building Notice served on RHL by Fife Council.

2014 January 8th Demolition of rest of APH approved by Fife Council.

January 28th HES site inspection.

February 11th Licensed building consent issued for demolition of APH.

March 12th North East Planning Committee Agenda Item No 5. Background briefing report on the complete demolition of APH.

RHL’s STEWARDSHIP OF APH

When RHL took possession of APH in 2001 they were responsible thereafter for the protection of this Category B listed building, which occupied a prominent position in the heart of the St Leonards redevelopment area. It has proved difficult to obtain reliable information on the steps taken by RHL to secure the building fabric of APH after they took possession in 2001. A briefing report presented to the N.E. Planning Committee in 2014 stated that the building remained empty up until 2010 whilst a master plan for the site was being prepared. RHL was there for unable ‘to implement any form of refurbishment until the council was satisfied with the site as a whole’. In September 2009 the St Andrews Citizen reported that a councillor had refuted the developer’s claim that the renovation of APH was being held up by the ‘planning system’. During this period APH was still the site’s principal character element and figured prominently in the initial marketing exercise mounted by RHL. At some stage during the preparation of the master plan, RHL installed site perimeter fencing, a 24-hour security guard and CCTV. These measures remained in place until the partial demolition of the ‘stables wing’ took place in December 2013. It was noted earlier, however, that APH was subjected to vandalism, water penetration and arson before being placed on the Buildings at Risk Register in 2007. Questions arise about the effectiveness of the measures taken by RHL and Fife Council to protect the fabric of the building.

FIFE COUNCIL

It is difficult to reconcile the information provided by the council about the measures that were taken before and after APH was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register (BARR). The Freedom of Information response received on 8th August 2019 (FoI No 27855) stated that Planning inspected APH on several occasions, the building was secured to an acceptable standard, and that RHL was required to undertake remedial action after the building was placed on the BARR to prevent the entry of people, birds and wildlife. A second FoI received on 12th September 2019 (28418) stated that Building Standards first visited APH on 22nd November 2013, the Planning Committee was first informed of the deterioration that had occurred when RHL sought permission in December 2013 to demolish APH (13/3627/LBC), and that the Council could not confirm when the building had first been secured. The Background briefing report presented to the N.E. Planning Committee on 12th March 2014 stated that between 2001 and 2010 there was no indication that APH was in immediate risk and beyond restoration. It also stated that the security of the building was monitored.

The historic and architectural importance of APH was confirmed in the Preliminary Conservation Statement prepared by Austin-Smith:Lord in 2012 to secure the future preservation and full use of the building. This was further confirmed when planning permission was granted on 28th November 2012 for the conversion of APH to a 47-bedroom hotel with restaurant, leisure and conference facilities (12/02081/FULL), and when listed building consent was granted on 14th January 2013 for partial demolition of the building (12/02239/LBC). When listed building consent was granted on 14th January 2014 for the demolition of the whole building it was subject to the following conditions (13/03627/LBC):

Condition 1. No demolition should take place until support for the ‘Stone Carved Arch’ was in place.

Condition 2. A list of all the architectural items that could be salvaged, including the Stone Carved Arch, should be submitted for council approval.

Condition 3. The Stone Carved Arch to be retained for re-use within a development of Abbey Park or the adjoining lands within the St Leonards Fields (SDF) unless written evidence is submitted which demonstrates that its condition prevents its re-use, that no suitable development opportunity exists, or that an alternative site has been found in St Andrews.

Condition 4. Restoration of the site.

This implies that the officers and the N.E. Fife Planning Committee still attached importance to the preservation of the Carved Stone Arch and other remains of the building’s architectural fabric. A letter received from the council dated 15th January 2019, however, stated that the evidence submitted to the Council had demonstrated that the Curved Stone Arch was in fact a clay brick structure, and that an officer visited the site on 1st November 2016 and advised that it was of little historic or architectural interest. It has since come to light that the pair of ornamental iron gates which were removed when a gate pier was re-sited have since been lost. When questioned at the meeting of the N.E. Fife Planning Committee on 29th May 2019 (18/02977/FULL) the case officer admitted that the council had failed to secure full enforcement of the above planning conditions.

Conclusion

The briefing report presented to the N.E. Fife Planning Committee On 12th March 2014 (Agenda item No 5) stated that:

5.2 ‘The demolition of the building is not therefore a result of neglect but the consequence of the decisions made regarding the design of the foundations at the time of the original construction of the building and the inherent instability of the ground on which the property was built. It is apparent that the foundations and ultimately the building which they supported had a limited lifespan and regrettably at the point of works commencing to consolidate the building and to secure it for redevelopment the seriousness of the instability of the Georgian section was revealed.’

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