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Objection to a planning application for the Almshouses

This is the architect's drawing presented with the planning application

21/503447 and 21/503448 (LBC): The Almshouses, South Road, Faversham ME13 7LU.  Demolition of existing single-storey extensions.  Erection of two-storey rear extensions to serve flats 6a/6b – 25a/25b.  Conversion of 11 into 2 flats.  Internal demolitions and alterations.

In 1840, Henry Wreight, local solicitor and former mayor of Faversham, left a bequest for the benefit of the town and which in due course enabled the building of the present Almshouses that are the subject of these applications.  The Architects were the relatively young Hooker and Wheeler of Brenchley and although each of them subsequently enjoyed productive solo practices, the Faversham Almshouses were undoubtedly the ‘magnum opus’ of their all too brief partnership and perhaps also of their individual careers.  The residential accommodation they created was upgraded in 1982 without significant damage or impairment of the integrity of their original design of the Almshouses and Chapel.  Today, it consists of 69 units in the splendid 1863 building, the largest and arguably the finest scheme of its kind in Kent.  Reputedly the third-largest Almshouse in the country, it continues to provide much-valued, affordable housing for those who need it and gives the opportunity to continue living independent lives. The Almshouses are Grade II listed.

The current proposal affects the entire, long rear elevation of the main block of the Almshouses on either side of Chapel.  The present single-floor extensions with their low-pitched roofs are to be replaced with 2-floored extensions, each some 2 metres longer and (in the case of the 8 double extensions) 2 metres wider than the existing ones.  The eaves of the present extension roofs are approximately 4.3 metres below the eaves of the main rear roof slope, whereas the proposal is to lift the new extension eaves to the same level as that of the rear roof.  The ridgelines of the existing extension roofs are approximately 1.5 metres below the rear eaves: the new ridgelines would be some 3.9 metres above – a raising of almost 5.5 metres.  The pitch of the existing extension roof slopes is roughly 40 degrees: the new extensions would have 60 degree roof pitches.  On either side of the Chapel, the two new extension roofs would all but reach the eaves of the Chapel and obscure most of its stone-clad sidewalls.

These proposals involve a dramatic enlargement of the rear extensions and would radically alter the relationship of the hitherto subservient extensions with the main block of accommodation.  They would also impose significant changes to the external modelling of the entire Almshouse range and alter the architectural and historical character and scale of the entire rear elevation and the setting of the Chapel.

The Applicant’s Heritage Statement and design proposals appear to be based and justified on three misleading or incorrect ideas.  These are:-

  1. that there are no important views of the West elevation or back of the Almshouses.
  2. that because the proposed works do not harm the more prominent and highly modelled front elevation and are screened by the North and South crosswings, they are not harmful to the Listed building.
  3. That the existing rear extensions that are to be demolished date only from the 1980’s and are therefore of no consequence.

This proposal affects the entire main rear elevation of the Almshouse block and includes the setting of the main Chapel.  This is visible from the green at Alexander Drive, from Monk’s Close, partly above eaves level from the tops of Dark Hill and Davington Hill and from Tanners Street as well as from immediate views within the site.  The Architects have failed to acknowledge that there are extensive and important views of the back of the Almshouses, both from looking into the Conservation Area and within it.

Architecture is three-dimensional. It is not only the front of the Almshouses that is important in terms of design and wide-scale views and setting.  The building in its entirety makes an important contribution to the character and quality of this part of the Conservation Area.  This is one of the most important and valued Listed buildings within our community and a full, correctly-based assessment of what the impact these proposals will have on the views into and within the Conservation Area is essential in this case.  This has not been provided and on those grounds alone we believe the application should be rejected.

The proposed alterations are also based on the incorrect assessment that the existing, single-floor rear extensions date from the 1980’s and are therefore of no importance or significance.  This is simply wrong.  The present rear extensions are in fact a combination of the original 1863 arrangement, as designed and built by Hooker and Wheeler, and changes in the 1980’s when the extension interiors were altered but the original footprints, lines of walls and pitched roofs were retained.  Proof of this can quickly be established by reference to Hooker ad Wheeler’s original contract drawing, as illustrated in John Blackford’s booklet ‘The Building of the New Almshouses in Faversham 1860-1863.’  The Ground Floor plans on pages 14 and 54 and the detailed rear elevation on page 19 clearly show that the present extensions follow the outlines, dimensions and roofscapes constructed under Hooker and Wheeler’s direction in 1862/63.  Examination of the present brickwork and fabric of the roof structures indicate they are of mixed original and 20th Century construction.  All this gives the existing extensions a far greater historical and architectural significance than the Architect’s historic building assessment and design ideas suggest.

The proposal will also cause irreversible, significant harm to the Listed building’s fabric by:-

  1. destroying 20 original First Floor, stone-framed windows in order to create internal doors into the new First Floor extensions.
  2. obscuring or covering much of the original external brickwork to the main back wall in order to create the new, 2-floored, wider extensions.
  3. obscuring much of the view from the 20 original Ground Floor rear windows by erecting wider extensions and narrowing the shared outlook to 2.25 metre wide, ramped corridors in place of the original shared back yards.

By creating 2-floored extensions with larger footprints and higher-pitched roofs running into the previously uninterrupted main rear roof, the Society maintains these proposals will substantially and unacceptably damage Hooker and Wheeler’s much-lauded original modelling of their building.  The two plain, main roof slopes and rear views of the majestic chimneys will be broken, and those elements will lose their long-established and intended dominance.  The previously modest extensions will be replaced by ones that are over-assertive.  The massing and importance of the Chapel in breaking up the long run of the domestic accommodation will be less apparent.  The whole character and scale of the rear elevation will be changed and Hooker and Wheeler’s overall modelling of the building will be lost forever.

The Faversham Society believes this proposal will unacceptably alter the character of this part of the Conservation Area and cause irreversible and unacceptable harm to the design and integrity of this most important historic and Listed building.  We also believe, given the points we have raised above, that the need to protect the authenticity and significance of this very special Almshouse far outweighs any social gain that would be achieved by the present proposals.  We, therefore, ask that Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent be refused. 

We are not unsympathetic to the desire to “improve” the accommodation for the residents. However, a better proposal, less injurious to heritage, needs to be proposed. 

Andrew Osborne has also written to object.

August 12, 2021

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