PUBLIC MEETING : Monday 15 April 2019 : 5pm – 6.30pm
The Savoy Park Hotel, 16 Racecourse Rd, Ayr KA7 2UT
AGREED Meeting Note
Present for Friends of Seafield House Committee (FoSH):
Patrick Lorimer FRIAS (Chair)
Fiona Walker (Vice Chair)
Lianne Hackett (Secretary)*
Rosemary Paterson, Hon Seafield Co-ordinator
Jean McClure, Lifetime FoSH Friend
*LH took a substantially verbatim note of the meeting
Present for Edesign Architecture & Planning & econstruct design & build:
Robin Ghosh, Director
Cllr Martin Dowey, South Ayrshire Council
Bill Grant MP
Cllr Lee Lyons, South Ayrshire Council
Cllr Derek McCabe, South Ayrshire Council
Forbes Watson, Vice Chair, Fort Seafield Wallacetown Community Council
18 members of the Seafield & wider Ayr community
Philip Toman (FoSH Committee member)
Brian Williamson (FoSH Committee member)
Cllr Siobhian Brown, South Ayrshire Council
Norman McLean, Chair, Fort Seafield Wallacetown Community Council
5 members of the Seafield community who had hoped to attend**
** In our leaflet and press releases (Ayrshire Post & Ayr Advertiser published our copy), we asked those wishing to attend to please book a place, as we had a maximum of 35 places available. One resident appeared, with a copy of our leaflet, but had chosen not to book, would not give his name and left when the FoSH Secretary explained that, as a community group, we share our names with each other. He is an objector, he said on leaving.)
Patrick Lorimer (Chair) welcomed everyone, saying:
“I will be setting out Friends of Seafield House (FoSH)’s response to the application together with my Committee colleague, Rob Close, our former Chair. We will then be joined by Robin Ghosh, Director, Edesign Architecture & Planning & econstruct design & build who has kindly agreed to answer questions on the application.
Also present for FoSH are our Vice Chair, Fiona Walker; our Secretary, Lianne Hackett; our Committee Member & Arrol Relative Kirsty Menzies; and our Committee Member Sheila Penny who is also Secretary of Kyle & Carrick Civic Society.
We are glad to have with us Ayr West Councillors Martin Dowey, Lee Lyons & Derek McCabe. I should make it clear that our Councillors cannot voice an opinion on the application, given the Council’s role as Planning Authority. We also welcome Bill Grant MP & Forbes Watson, Vice Chair Fort Seafield Wallacetown Community Council. Thank you all for being present.
Before we get to the specifics of the application, I will give a short background to our campaigning group and the history of Seafield House. As many who live in the area know well, Seafield House was the former home of Sir William Arrol, the engineering & construction giant whose ingenuity and drive brought into being the iconic Forth Bridge – inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 – and the sub-structure of London Tower Bridge to name but two of his monumental achievements. Other unique Arrol structures include the Arrol Gantry at Tate Modern & the Connell Bridge.
Following Sir William’s death in 1913, the house became an Auxiliary Hospital during WW1. From 1920, it served for many years as a maternity & children’s hospital before those services moved to other hospital locations. Our FoSH website has many comments posted by former patients, of whom I am one: I lost my tonsils & adenoids at Seafield!
If we fast forward to 2005, the Health Board made an attempt to sell the site to Miller Homes, but the sale fell through. In 2007, a proposal was put together for South Ayrshire Community Health Partnership & Social Work, Housing & Health to be based at Seafield House. This did not come to fruition.
In 2008, a terrible fire damaged parts of Seafield House, after which some of the modern additions were pulled down. Following the fire, a proposal to site Ayr Grammar School in new premises on a flattened site saw the Health Board apply for Listed Building Consent (LBC) to demolish Seafield House. There was significant objection to the proposal and the application was refused.
In 2010, Rydens were appointed to market the site. The next year, the Health Board again applied for LBC to demolish. This time, opposition was even greater. Our Hon Seafield Co-Ordinator Rosemary Paterson heroically put together a petition of 285 signatories. I was an objector as were others of us in this room. Our view prevailed. The application was withdrawn and the Seafield House Viability Group established with representatives from the Health Board, South Ayrshire Council, Historic Scotland & the Scottish Government’s Scottish Futures Trust.
On 15 October 2012, FoSH came into being at a Steering Group meeting held in this hotel. SAVE Britain’s Heritage’s President Marcus Binney – we were at University together – was present together with representatives from Kyle & Carrick Civic Society & Historic Scotland. More than 15 of Scotland & Britain’s leading conservation architects & engineers, architectural historians, academics, authors, entrepreneurs & local residents came together and agreed that a group should be established. FoSH becomes an unincorporated voluntary body by Founding Deed on 25 March 2013.
In 2013, the Health Board re-appointed Rydens to market Seafield House. As part of the marketing campaign a Developers Open Day was arranged – again in this hotel – at which FoSH was invited to be present together with SAVE, whose former Director, Clem Cecil, attended.
One of the developers who attended was Robin Ghosh who has a special link with Seafield House: his late father, Dr Brian Ghosh, was a consultant at Seafield Hospital. Robin’s purchase of Seafield House & grounds was made in his father’s memory. After four years of hard work, Robin has achieved a major step towards his goal of restoring Seafield House.
As you know, the planning application lodged *** by Edesign Architecture & Planning is for the restoration and conversion of Seafield House into 10 apartments and the building of 27 new homes in the grounds. Robin has commissioned a landscape design that thins the tree belt to be replaced with new perimeter planting and creates a Sir William Arrol Memorial Garden. We are still awaiting the application becoming live on the Council’s planning portal. We hear that this is imminent.
FoSH will make public its support for the application, which will be given with the proviso that the Seafield House restoration & conversion into apartments is complete before the last five new homes are built in the grounds.
I will now hand over to Robin Ghosh who will give us an outline of the scheme.”
This is an abridged version of the Chair’s speaking notes.
***date given on SAC planning portal is 22 March, but the application was lodged before 20 March
Robin Ghosh: We became involved in 2013/14. Seafield House had lain derelict since the 1990s. The site did not sell even through the housing boom. Others tried to achieve a flattened site. The application is for an enabling development. Our vision was to retain the house. As a small, local company, we have the vision to bring the building back to life. Our vision to retain the house has to be viable; we need the new-build houses to restore & convert Seafield House.
Our plan for the house follows the original layout. We have studied carefully the plans and are making no extension to the original footprint. In place of the original orangery, we have an extension, but it is smaller than the original. Our design is based on retaining every window & door opening. We will create 10 unique apartments, one of which is over four floors and takes in the tower. We believe that the generous size of the apartments and their quirkiness will add to their marketing.
The sandstone is in good condition. We will undertake localised repairs, with the agreement of Historic Environment Scotland. The roof will be re-roofed in slate. All 127 windows will either be restored or replaced in sash & case. Our aim is to restore & retain where possible.
As I mentioned, to enable the restoration of Seafield House, we need the new-build homes. Our original plan was for 15 large-scale homes in the grounds, but – when we took the plans to market – we were told that there was no market in Ayr for this size of property. We therefore reduced in size the houses and increased the number. We now plan to build 27 family homes in the grounds. They will have timber storm doors, slate roofs & timber detailing. We have designed seven house types. All are two-storey and have 4/5 bedrooms. The designs meet the Council’s design guidance, including for provision for three cars. Our aim is to create an unique site integrity & identity. We are adding a gate house to mirror the original gatehouse.
There will be buffer planting around Seafield House to protect the environs of the house. The planting to the south of the house will be almost untouched; the trees are in good condition. At the rear of the house, we plan to plant a wild-flower meadow with meandering paths. The plan for Seafield House sees the house retain its own entrance. We plan an opening in the stone wall on Doonfoot Road to create anew entrance to the new-build homes. The stone that is removed in making the entrance will be used to reinstate the wall when the former bus shelter is removed.
In designing the road within the scheme, we have tried to take away the focus from the roadway. We have designed a 4.8m shared surface and have the support of Ayrshire Roads Alliance in doing this. The road meanders through the site. Traffic calming measures are built into the design. There is pedestrian access from Seafield Crescent [N.B Three houses – two in Seafield Crescent & one in Doonfoot Road – retain their vehicular access to the lane] and from Arrol Park.
One of the consequences of the need for the new-build homes is that there will be significant loss of trees. We have studied the historic planting scheme and will reinstate the original perimeter planting. The tree belt will be thinned and new planting will be introduced. The tree belt stands out because lack of maintenance over the years meant that trees have had to grow tall to get to the light.
Print copies of the planting plan are displayed at the back of the room. The design reflects Sir William Arrol’s bridge designs in arched pathways. The arch as embrace also reflects the care that was given at Seafield Hospital. We will create a reflective space in the Sir William Arrol Memorial Garden. This space is all about inclusiveness and quiet reflection. We are involving Heriot Watt University in the design and will mount a competition with HWU to design a sculpture for the space. [HWU’s William Arrol Building houses ICE Scotland Museum, which includes several Arrol artefacts]
It has taken us a number of years to get here. We needed to draw up a scheme that would sell. The application is lodged with the Council [The Council gives the date as 22 March, but the application was lodged by 20 March.] We delivered an information letter to all households that back on to Seafield House. My number was included. Formal neighbour notification letters will go out once the application is uploaded.
We anticipate that, as a major development, planning permission will take four months. We plan to stagger the building warrant application process. We will build in phases. Seafield House will be restored & converted in tandem with construction of the new-build homes.
Chair: Robin is happy to take questions.
Q1: The trees along the boundary with Seafield Crescent are in a dangerous state. What can be done about that?
RG: I am aware of the fears of residents in Seafield Crescent about the state of the trees. There has been poor maintenance & management over the years. Some of the trees are dead and have fallen, others are standing, but have dead limbs. As you know, a blanket Tree Preservation Order applies to all the trees. Permission is needed to fell them. Once we have gained permission, we can begin to remove those trees. The new planting will be maintained by the overall site factor.
Q2: Is Arrol Park going to be retained?
RG: Our application follows the line of Arrol Park. As far as we are aware, Arrol Park will stay.
Q3: What drainage systems will you be putting in place? Will the main drainage system cope with the additional houses?
RG: Scottish Water is the statutory body. We are putting in a sustainable drainage system (SUDS) which involves natural filtration on site. We plan to connect into the main drain in Doonfoot Road.
Q4: Who owns the boundary wall?
RG: The wall falls under our title. It is listed and should remain as a feature of the site. The wall is a lovely feature for the new-build homes. Maintenance of the wall will come under the factoring system.
Q5: FoSH is asking for Seafield House to be completed internally before the last five houses are completed & sold. Will you say more about this?
RG: Both projects – Seafield House & the new-build homes – go hand-in-hand. The Council will need to reflect on how many new-builds it wants to see built before Seafield House is completed. Everything needs funding. We are trying to find the right balance. Our plan is for both Seafield House & the new-build homes to be finished at the same time.
Q6: There is a lovely chestnut tree at the entrance. What will happen to it?
RG: We are trying to retain it, but we are not 100% sure that we can, given its proximity to the new lodge house that we plan to build at the entrance.
Q7: Will the wrought iron railings be retained?
RG: Yes. We have also added gates to Seafield House to give it an exclusive vehicular entrance.
Q8: How long will it take to complete the development?
RG: The timeline is to the end of 2012/beginning of 2022. We are taking a phased approach. First we will put up scaffolding on Seafield House and begin the soft strip. We will also be putting in the infrastructure. We will then build the new homes in phases starting at the Doonfoot Road side of the site.
Q9: What is the planting scheme along the Arrol Drive boundary?
RG: Some of the existing trees along that boundary are overgrown. We plan to replant with a mix of trees & shrubs. The perimeter planting will be a mix of trees of different species. I cannot remember exactly which species, but it is clear from the planting plan. A copy is at the back of the room. [The planting plan is one of the documents lodged on the planning portal.]
Q10: What will the street lighting look like?
RG: The lighting is an important part of getting right the identity of the development and giving a sense of local pride. The design has conservation-style lighting columns and subtle lighting at low level, including in the woodland area & garden area to the rear of Seafield House.
Bill Grant MP: I want to thank you, Robin, for taking on Seafield House. My personal view is that this is the tonic the town needs. Thank you for all your efforts.
RG: Thank you. We are a dynamic local company. Everyone who works for us lives locally. In the past, the only solution for making viable the Seafield House site was seen to be demolition. I accept that we have had delays. That we have got here shows it is possible to make viable tricky buildings like Seafield House. These are the buildings in the town that should remain. As FoSH knows, a large developer was interested, but took cold feet. Large developers are looking for large, cleared sites. Hopefully, what we are doing here will inspire others to take on other tricky buildings like the Station Hotel & Strathdoon House.
Bill Grant MP: It could act as a catalyst for other buildings in the town.
RG: I hope it can.
Q11: What about the squirrels?
RG: The wildlife surveys we have done showed not large populations of squirrels & other wildlife. No bats were found.
Q12: You talked about designing a quiet & tranquil space for people to use. How accessible will it be? Also, will the roads be adopted roads?
RG: That is a good point. We are trying to protect the setting of Seafield House. We want to make the space we are designing as the Sir William Arrol Memorial Garden as accessible as possible. We want to create special spaces. We also feel that the new-build housing does not need to look the same as it does in other places – Glasgow & Edinburgh, for example. The main road is adopted. The road in front of Seafield House is a private road.
Forbes Watson, Vice Chair FSWCC: Will there be social housing in the development?
RG: No. There is a requirement for social housing in the local plan, but this is an enabling development, which does not have such a requirement.
Rob Close FoSH: Do you envisage having 1 or 2 contractors on site?
RG: There will be two separate contractors: Econstruct will focus on Seafield House and Westpoint Homes will facilitate the new-build homes. The builders yard will be sited in the cleared ground to the front of the house where there is space for it.
Q13: What is the area shown to the south of the plan (as shown on screen)?
RG: That is Arrol Park, which was built by the Health Board in the 80s. To its left is the Nightingale House mews development, which is almost complete.
Q14: What about the Lodge House?
RG: We talked to the Health Board about acquiring the lodge, but at this stage its answer was “No”.
Q15: There is a building in Racecourse View that has been beautifully renovated. Will Seafield House look like this?
RG: That building has had stone cleaning. The listed status of Seafield House means that we have to be very careful in our restoration. Historic Environment Scotland requires us to undertake careful treatment in all our restoration works.
Rob Close FoSH: Will the factor for the grounds also have responsibility for the boundary wall?
RG: Yes. The boundary wall will seem to be in the back gardens of the new-build homes, but there will be a post & rail fence to allow access for maintenance. The factor will also be responsible for maintaining what are viewed as the iconic trees, most of which were planted to the front of Seafield House at the retirement of, or in memory of, medical staff. I hope to speak to Jean after the meeting about planting a tree in memory of her husband, Dr John McClure.
Thank you for your questions.
Chair: I will hand over to FoSH Committee Member & Arrol relative Kirsty Menzies who will give a short update on our FoSH research into Sir William Arrol.
Kirsty Menzies FoSH: I have some images from our research, including photographs of how Seafield House looked in Sir William Arrol’s day. Through photos held by RCAHMS [the Canmore archive, now held by Historic Environment Scotland] we can piece together how the rooms in the house were used. Through contacts via our website, we have been given auction catalogues from sales that took place after Sir William’s death, including of the paintings in the house. This is valuable information as the catalogues give sizes, colours & whether oil/watercolour. Someone in Canada sent us a copy of a catalogue, for example.
We have a good picture now of life in the house, including of the music that Sir William listened to, as this was described in a biography of Sir William that a friend of his wrote. Sir William was an early purchaser of a gramophone – very state of the art!
We have posted information on our research on the FoSH website, as well as the memories we have been sent.
and I have established the Sir William Arrol website
My most recent research was for Tower Bridge, which commissioned me to write biographies of a number of the Arrol steelworkers for its Museum exhibition displays. My current focus is the lesser-known Arrol structures. All were built within his lifetime. I am photographing them and adding the images to the Sir William Arrol group on Flicker
We will continue to gather on our website Memories of Seafield House including in its hospital days and I will continue to research the business & personal life of Sir William.
Chair: In closing this meeting, I thank you all for coming. Thanks to Robin for describing the scheme & sharing plans & drawings and to Kirsty for bringing the projector & laptop & running the presentation for us.
If you would kindly contribute to the collection that we are taking to cover the cost of room hire & refreshments, we would be most grateful.
The meeting closed at 6.15pm. with further discussion over tea/coffee
The collection raised £53.52 towards costs of room hire (£50 at discounted rate) & £40 (tea + coffee. LH apologises for not specifying 4.45pm for arrival of tea + coffee, as it was a little cool when we got to it!)
The Savoy Park Hotel invoice of £90 was paid by LH as £50 cash & the balance of £40 by personal card payment for reimbursement minus £3.52 in cash. LH reimbursement therefore = £36.48)
AGREED Meeting Note dated 24 April 2019