This article is an account of the detailed proposals which have been put to the Gunnersbury Park Regeneration Board, and incorporates elements of the Board’s discussion on 2nd April 2009.
The Friends will be meeting Paul Jardine at 6.30 on the evening of Thursday 9th April in the Terrace Room of the Small Mansion (light refreshments from 6.00). If you are a member, please come along to hear about and discuss these proposals.
Paul Jardine of Jura Consultants explained that he and his colleagues had created a long list of options, then a set of scenarios for feedback from the various interested parties, then a short list, then a more intensive study to test feasibility (including the financial elements) and he was now able to put forward his preferred option (which answers a request within his brief).
His five scenarios were to:
• Do nothing.
• Do the minimum: perhaps convert the Small Mansion to a restaurant / exhibition / conference / functions service, refurbish Orangery for weddings, and refurbish the burnt-out changing rooms.
• Maximise community benefit: perhaps convert the ground floor of the Large Mansion for a restaurant / exhibition / conference / functions service with the upstairs for holiday lets, move the Museum to the Small Mansion and use its upstairs for storage, mothball the Stables or find the money to create a museum store, convert the Orangery to educational classrooms, build a sport hub near the Potomac and invite Capel Manor to expand into all the walled garden.
• Maximise commercial opportunities: perhaps lease both Large and Small Mansions to a developer as hotel, office, residential or school, with holiday lets in the stables, move “Tropical Forest” into the walled garden, convert the Orangery to a restaurant and build a sports hub with a private leisure centre.
• Destination: perhaps upgrade the Museum to “Museum of West Middlesex”, convert the Small Mansion to a restaurant / exhibition / conference / functions service, put an Art Gallery into the Stables, convert the Orangery to high quality tea room and build a sports hub with a private leisure centre.
After consultation these were reduced to four options, and it was these which were being presented, with valuation and costs evidence. These were to:
1. Do the minimum – continue with everything as it is, but spend £23,000 stabilising the Stables. This proposal would incur unpredictable future costs as emergency repairs would be required for the buildings.
2. Do mixed-use development – restore both Mansions, enhance the Museum, convert the Small Mansion to offices, put holiday lets into the Stables, refurbish many of the garden buildings, and do minor works to the landscape to upgrade the historic core (i.e. move pitch and putt and tennis courts). The capital costs of this option have been calculated at £22m, but it is unlikely that either English Heritage or the Heritage Lottery Fund would support it with grants, partly because it reduces public access to some of the buildings.
3. Restore and upgrade – restore the Large Mansion and use as a restaurant / exhibition / conference / functions service with staff living above, restore the Small Mansion and use as the Museum, restore the Stables as a visitable Museum Store, refurbish the Orangery as a tea room, refurbish the Temple and Princess Amelia’s Bath House, restore the Potomac Tower, the Gothic Ruins and the historic boundary walls, do significant works to the landscape by reinstating lost features, remove detrimental aspects and generally upgrade, and build a Sports Hub near the Potomac. The capital costs of this have been calculated at £39m, of which the Sports Hub would be £13m. This is the approach which English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund would be most likely to support.
4. Create a “Destination”: restore the Large Mansion and upgrade the Museum, restore the Small Mansion as a functions and restaurant venue, restore the Stables as an Art Gallery, build a Sports Hub and private leisure centre, and do all the garden buildings work described in the previous option. The capital costs of this have been calculated at £49m, of which the Sports Hub and leisure centre would be £20m. Although English Heritage or the Heritage Lottery Fund might support this proposal with grants, the overall cost is too great to consider as realistic.
Jura’s preferred option is “Restore and Upgrade”.
Enabling development. Although grants might be available, in the last three of these schemes there would have to be some form of development which covered the costs. Montague Evans, the property consultants, having considered the market for all forms of development in west London, advised that housing is the most appropriate. They then considered three sites in the park – a triangle of land behind the houses at the Popes Lane entrance beside the existing car park, what they called the South Paddock, backing on to the Cemetery, and the land along Lionel Road North, which is their preferred option. This last they have divided into one long strip (from the existing housing southwards) which would stop at a newly-made entrance just north of the Potomac lake area. This is 4.5 acres and, depending how it was developed (i.e. the number and size of houses and/or houses and flats), would be worth between £9m and £12m in the short term, and perhaps up to £16m in the medium term. Between the new entrance and the junction of Lionel with the Great West Road they have suggested a 1.1 acre site for flats, with a short term value of £2.2m. LB Hounslow, in its role as planning authority, would have to determine what scale of development would be acceptable in such a sensitive area. Jura consider that these sums would be sufficient to bridge the difference between what the Councils and the grant-giving bodies would give, and what is needed for the scheme.
Operating costs. Maintaining the Park to a higher standard and running the two-site Museum would require increasing the annual budget. Jura’s calculations are that the income from the Large Mansion’s new functions business would be sufficient to cover this.
Valuations and costs: The financial data in the report are expected to be valid for the next three years, but it might take two of those years to work up a scheme for a Heritage Lottery Fund decision.
Changing rooms: If the Sports Hub is built, then the fire-damaged changing rooms (a 19th century model farm originally) would become superfluous. There is a possibility that Capel Manor college, which has courses in animal care, might be invited to use it as a children’s zoo (similar to their operation at Crystal Palace, which appears to be locally popular).
English Heritage is not just a grant-giving body. It is the government’s advisor on historic building and landscapes. Gunnersbury is rated at 2* on their Register of historic parks and gardens (i.e. within the top 30% of English landscapes). They therefore have a right to be consulted on proposals for enabling development. Their Policy Statement on Enabling Development (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.17634) makes it clear that such a step must secure the long-term viability of the place. Gunnersbury is a Conservation area and also designated as Metropolitan Open Land (inside London’s equivalent of the Green Belt), so there are formidable planning processes against which this proposal will be judged.
Do the Councils have the capacity to deliver such a scheme? Paul Jardine pointed to the next steps. He said there would have to be some form of feasibility study, a programme for the development, an outline business case for the grant applications, a prospectus to find an operator for the Large Mansion business and a process of getting the permissions. He also said how important it was for the councils to develop what he called a “delivery vehicle” for the project (i.e. the capacity to make decisions and do the work) and an “operational vehicle” for the subsequent management of the Park. In this, he was echoing earlier reports on the management of Gunnersbury.
Public consultation. The Board agreed the importance of holding a major public consultation, though it was not clear if it was a questionnaire which included all the options (including the ones which Jura had filtered out in its analytical work) or just into the “preferred option” which Jura had been asked to propose. Nevertheless, the Board agreed to discuss it on their e-mail over the next two months and agree a final version at their next meeting.
(James Wisdom, 4th April 2009)