‘Conserve convent, don’t concrete it...’

THE looming threat of the development on the former convent site, the former Holy Child of Jesus in Magdalen Road (Observer, April 6) is a major concern for a significant historic site in the borough.

What thought has gone into attempting to preserve it for its historic significance? Behind the walls are some of the most important buildings in the borough. Apart from Grade 2 listed buildings, there is also a Grade 2* listed chapel designed by Edwin Pugin, son of Augustus Pugin, renowned architects of their period.

Not listed is an Italianate-styled building of notable quality which developers propose to demolish rather than restore.

Claiming to restore this building dating back to the 1840s would be uneconomical.

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who wrote a guide to notable buildings in England, said in his Sussex guide of the convent: “It has an historic importance as the home of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the first new native congregation of women found in England since the reformation.”

The disturbing element of this application is by using a clause in planning called an ‘Enabling Development’ where justifying the development in order to restore the listed buildings.

Under this guise applications to develop a site should only cover the restoration costs of a building(s) where often the owner does not have the funds.

Guidelines also specifically state such applications should not be used where owners deliberately allowed their property to fall into disrepair.

Originated by English Heritage to aid the conservation projects for strapped owners is a ‘not-for-profit’ scheme and made clear in Planning Policy Statement 5 “Planning for the Historic Environment.”

However, this application to develop the convent clearly shows a large profit margin. Hence there is no conservation deficit, therefore it is not an Enabling Development. Both English Heritage and the Victorian Society have also made this clear to Hastings Borough Council. However, in the council’s efforts to accommodate this application, it is now a ‘Type’ of Enabling Development.

No attempts appear to have been made, too, by the applicants to find an alternative use or prospective aspirant to take it over. One small mention by Savills in a costing report for the developers, states funding would not be found in the current economic climate.

What about suitable alternatives for this old convent of architectural and historical prominence?

Several have successfully been transformed into conference centres – hotels and wedding venues.

It ticks all these boxes if there is a desire to conserve it rather than concrete it.