Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Almshouses repair ‘more suited to shopping centre’

THE trustees of almshouses in Goring Heath have been criticised for carrying out resurfacing work without listed building consent.

Two central sections of the main courtyard were resurfaced with pebbles and set in sand and cement with latex bonded gravel.

The trustees say the work needed doing for health and safety reasons and to improve the appearance.

But Goring Heath Parish Council claims the materials were inappropriate and more suitable for a shopping centre than the almshouses, which are Grade I listed.

The work was carried out in April 2014 but the trustees did not seek planning permission at the time so they have now submitted a retrospective application.

The almshouses, which date from 1724 and are also known as the Allnuts Hospital, provide accommodation for retired or soon-to-be retired men and women who have a connection to Goring Heath or the surrounding parishes.

There are six properties set around a three-sided open courtyard with a central chapel. Another four, plus the matron’s cottage and a community room, are close by.

David Fitzjohn, on behalf of the trustees, said: “At the time the work was carried out I was not aware that listed building consent was required as it did not affect any of the buildings themselves.

“I have subsequently been advised that with a Grade I building such as the almshouses any works require such consent. On behalf of the trustees, I apologise for this oversight.”

He said the old courtyard surface had been put down “post-Seventies” and had become uneven and dangerous, particularly in bad weather.

Mr Fitzjohn said: “During the past few years the surface of the courtyard was causing concern both for health and safety reasons as well as to the visual effect of the existing surface.

“Our residents are mainly elderly and often somewhat infirm and our prime concern as trustees is always for their safety and comfort.”

In a letter to South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, Mr Fitzjohn said the trustees had visited almshouses in Ewelme, which are also Grade I listed and where the paths and hard surfaced areas had been resurfaced with latex bonded fine gravel.

He said: “This provided a non-slip and water-permeable finish which would be a great improvement from the perspective of the users.

“In addition, the fact that it had been installed at a very similar type of building indicated how suitable it would be for our use.”

He added that the choice of finish had been influenced by reviewing aerial photographs of the Goring Heath site taken in the Seventies where it “looked like a gravel or compacted sand finish of a light colour”.

However, the parish council has recommended that the application is refused and the old surface is
re-instated.

In a statement, the council said: “The replacement of the historical ground surface by modern, bonded asphalt amounts to substantial harm to the forecourt and setting of the almshouses and the chapel.

“The surface that has been laid is appropriate for a shopping centre, not a Grade I listed building.”

The council said it was unlikely the old cobbled surface had been created in the Seventies, saying that it was more likely to have been laid in the 18th century as similar cobbles could be found elsewhere in the area and they were part of “local tradition”.

The council said it had anecdotal evidence of the long-standing existence of the original surface from a woman who was born in the village in the Forties and pupils of the former Goring Heath Endowed School, which was located by the almshouses.

The statement added: “The applicant has claimed that the work was needed because the surface was unsuitable for elderly people.

“This need had previously been addressed by the provision of flagged paths giving access to all the entrances to the residences in the courtyard and to the chapel and entrance gateway.

“As a Grade I listed property, this site should be treated with maximum care and respect.

“The listing, which dates back to 1951, when the listing process was in its infancy, reflects the importance of the site as [being of] historic or architectural interest.

“There is no excuse for this work having been carried out without consultation with the planning authority in advance.”

The district council is due to make a decision by next week.

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