Bid to list Sidmouth council HQ rejected

English Heritage says The Knowle building and grounds are not of sufficient national importance

Campaigners fighting plans to redevelop East Devon District Council’s Sidmouth HQ – following the authority’s anticipated move to a new base in Honiton - have lost their bid to have the site listed.

English Heritage has told them The Knowle building and surrounding parkland is not considered to be of national interest.

In a covering note the regional boss of its designation team said: “The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has decided not to add East Devon District Council building and landscape, Knowle, Sidmouth to the list at this time.

“Additionally English Heritage has decided not to add the site to the Register of Parks and Gardens.”

The application for ‘designation’ was made by opponents of the proposal to consider selling the site for redevelopment as part of a wider plan to move to new purpose-built offices in Honiton.

In its report, turning down the application, English Heritage said that what remains of the original house and hotel does not demonstrate the high level of architectural design needed.

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As far as the grounds are concerned, English Heritage said not enough of the original landscape design survives to warrant addition to the national register.

They added: “A large part of the original garden has been lost through housing development, particularly on the south, west and north edges of the garden, which have led to the loss of large parts of the landscape design.”

English Heritage researchers traced the history of the council headquarters back to the early 19th Century, when it was a relatively small “Cottage Ornee” and a private residence.

It was later extended to become a very large home and was then converted to become a hotel in the late 1800s.

In the ensuing years, parcels of land were sold off and piecemeal development occurred in the 20th Century on the south-west and north-west areas of the garden.

In support of its contention that Knowle is not of sufficient architectural interest, English Heritage said: “Although the building retains some attractive internal features and some earlier external building fabric, overall it does not demonstrate the high level of architectural design needed for a hotel building of this date. The earlier parts of the building have later additions of standard office buildings which further detract from this.”

They added: “As a late 19th Century hotel which has had various alterations in the 20th Century through its conversion to offices, it does not display the high level of intactness, architectural quality or innovation necessary to meet the selection criteria for a commercial building of this date. “

The report concludes: “Knowle, with its prominent position overlooking the town of Sidmouth, and the remains of its landscape garden, which is now a public space, have clear local interest.

“However the house and the grounds have been heavily altered in their successive uses. The alterations that have occurred both to the gardens and the house mean that neither meets the criteria for designation in a national context, though they are evidently highly-valued by the local community”.