A Compulsory Purchase Case Study
Buildings are sometimes abandoned following years of neglect either
because the owners cannot afford to do the basic building maintenance
or because the cost of refurbishment or conversion to an economically
viable new use would exceed the value of the property once refurbished.
When a listed building is abandoned and left to decay, the local
authority can serve an urgent works notice on the owner, and if necessary, carry out the works itself at the expense
of the owner. However, an urgent works notice is not
a panacea. It risks bankrupting the owner of the building, leaving the
local authority with a heavy bill, a building it does not want, and
a lot of bad publicity. In this case neither the owner nor the local
authority gains and, as a result, local authorities are often reluctant
to take action.
Matters are further complicated when the
preservation of a building would be more expensive and less profitable
than the redevelopment of its site. Some owners would prefer to see
their property fall down and are prepared to exploit local authority
reluctance to take action to achieve this end. Nevertheless, many conservation
officers have used the threat of urgent works notices to ensure that
a building is preserved, particularly where their council has an established
track record of taking action.
Where an owner clearly does not have the
resources to preserve an historic building, one way out of the impasse
is a 'back-to-back' agreement whereby the local authority buys the property,
if necessary by compulsory purchase, and immediately sells it to a building
preservation trust (BPT) for refurbishment.
Arguably one of Wales' most important
historic buildings, Sker House was successfully purchased in this manner
by Bridgend County Borough Council and immediately sold to the Buildings
at Risk Trust, a BPT based in Derbyshire. (At the time there were no
BPTs in the region with the resources to take on a project of this size.)
A scheme for the renovation of the building has now been prepared by
the specialist conservation architects, Davies Sutton Architects,
Sker House is a large medieval house near
Porthcawl in Glamorgan. It was originally founded by the monks of Neath
as one of five farms or 'granges' to support the Abbey. The main house
was remodelled in the mid 16th century following the Dissolution. Architecturally
it is large and rambling, with tall gabled wings. Only the main hall
on the first floor is more refined, with stone mullioned windows in
the Tudor manner and the remnants of a fine plaster frieze of foliage
interspersed with bird-headed men shooting arrows at dragons.
Made famous by RD Blackmore in his book
The Maid of Sker, Sker House has been tenanted since the late 17th century.
Its condition declined in the 19th century and in 1977 it was declared
unsafe. Not long after its tenants moved out, the southern gable end
collapsed. The building is now in a ruinous state with ugly farm buildings
nearby detracting from its setting, and the grounds are used as a farmyard.
The proposal is to restore Sker House with
the collapsed end remaining as a ruin, its walls enclosing a garden
within, sheltered from the winds. The project has been supported by
the Historic Buildings Advisory Council for Wales which has contributed £250,000
for the relocation of the modern farm buildings and to provide new access,
and by the Heritage Lottery Fund who have contributed £413,000 for its
The original owners and its tenants will
gain from the new barns, and the future of this great medieval house
seems assured. After a long delay, work started on St David's Day (1st
SKER HOUSE - THE SAGA CONTINUES
The troubled history of Sker House seems set
to continue despite starting the restoration project back in March 1999.
Since then the first contractor went into receivership at the end of
that year. The site then lay dormant for three years whilst legal matters
were resolved. The same contractor (under a different name) was reinstated
in November 2002 but suddenly resigned last April. A third contractor,
Restruct Ltd of Bridgend, is now completing the project, which is programmed
to finish in July 2003.
main structural work was completed three years ago, and the remaining
works involve: installing the heating and electrical services, completing
the plastering, fitting metal windows and oak plank doors, laying floors,
and laying the external drainage. There will also be a measure of external
landscaping, such as rebuilding garden walls, and introducing paths
around the house. Whilst excavating for drainage recently the archaeologist
discovered a series of possibly Medieval structures at the front of the house
- probably belonging to the earlier Medieval Grange.
level of completion of the House has been a topic of discussion for
many years. It has been decided to take the project to about 90 per cent completion,
leaving the finishing touches to the new owner so they can decide upon
the final fit-out. This provides maximum flexibility so the sale of
the house will attract as many uses, and therefore buyers, as possible.
Covenants will be attached to the sale to ensure that future works will
conform to the trust's wishes.
Davies Sutton Architects
Postscript: the conservation of Sker House was successfully completed by the autumn of 2003 after a £1.2 million restoration, aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is now a private house.