Should the Council sell West Lodge at the entrance to the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Woodland Walk? If it does what will be the impact on the natural and cultural heritage of the site?
Why we should care?
The ruins of the gunpowder mills may not be as spectacular as Guildford Castle but that does not mean they are unimportant. In fact, Guildford Castle and the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills have something very important in common. They are both Scheduled Monuments, the highest status of protection that can be awarded to any structure in this country.
West Lodge, the Grade II entrance to the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills, should be part of the scheduled monument but its owners, Guildford Borough Council, were using it as staff accommodation at the time of the designation which made it ineligible. As a result it has been left out on a limb, allowed to decay and the last Council persuaded itself that the best option for preserving it was to sell it for housing.
My concern is that the Council’s approach will do more harm than good unless it thinks this through carefully. Not only will a scheduled monument be harmed but the entrance to a public amenity might be disfigured. I also believe the Council should think carefully before selling off slices of public amenities to raise a small bit of cash.
Why is selling the building risky?
On paper the idea of selling West Lodge seems a good one? Someone will get a nice home and the Council is saved the problem of maintaining the building. However, this solution does not make sense when you examine the problem in detail.
West Lodge is two rather run down buildings that are separated by a six inch gap. They do not immediately make a natural starting point for a home. A new owner would most likely want to carry out alterations or expand the building to increase their investment. They would also want parking. How all this can be done without coming into conflict with dog walkers or without harming the “natural and cultural heritage of the site” needs to be worked out. There is no information in the public domain to show that the Council has done this.
Are there other options?
Make no mistake about it, this is not an easy problem to solve. There are other options but all perhaps have their issues
- Option 1: Seal up the building and preserve it as a scheduled monument. – This is what the Council would probably have to do if the building had been scheduled along with the rest of the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills.
- Option 2: Run a community project to restore the building, engage local colleges or work enterprise schemes – Museums do this sort of thing all the time. It requires the right people to organise it, however, so might seem complicated
- Option 3: Sell West Lodge with strict conditions that preserve the nature of the site. This might ruin any chance of successfully selling the building as possible owners might find the conditions to restrictive.
The Council may have worked out a solution that is acceptable to all, but it is hard to see where that might come from. Even if the Council plans to sell West Lodge with no restrictions, will it find a buyer willing to spend £150,000 plus £100,000 repair costs plus possibly £100,000 for an extension?Will a new owner want to take on the task of securing planning permission. Will there be objections?
We can only hope that the Council gives this issue the due consideration it deserves.