As we enter the 7th year since the estate masterplan was first announced, the start of the restoration and conversion of Doddington Hall (granted planning consent in 2015) is now awaiting the decision of Cheshire East Council on the second, linked planning application to build new houses on a number of sites around the estate and near Woore.
It is accepted that the huge cost of restoration and conversion of the Grade I Listed Hall and other Listed Buildings and parkland on the estate far exceeds the economic value created, so the proposed new housing is there to effectively subsidise the costs and to make this happen.
The Council's decision is expected soon.
In July 2015, Cheshire East Council granted Planning and Listed Building Consents for the restoration and conversion of Doddington Hall into a luxury 120 bed hotel and spa. The permission also provides for repairs and restoration work to the Listed Delves Castle and Demesne Farm (Star Barn) plus landscape and other enhancements to Doddington Park. The project is dependent upon the grant of outline planning permission for new housing on a number of sites around the estate. This second planning application is due to be submitted to Cheshire East Council soon.
Discussions with Cheshire East and the Doddington & District Parish Councils culminated at the end of 2014 with the decision by the estate to separate the planning application into two; firstly, an application to restore and convert Doddington Hall and to carry out urgent repairs to Delves Hall and the Star Barn; secondly, an application for the "enabling" residential development needed to plug the shortfall between total costs and value (the conservation deficit).
A detailed planning and Listed Building Consent application was duly submitted at Christmas, for the first of the two applications – Doddington Hall, Delves Hall, the Star Barn. The application, if successful, will permit Doddington Hall to be brought back into use as a luxury 120 bed hotel and spa. A decision is expected in the summer.
The masterplan aims to reverse the decline of many decades and to ensure a viable long-term future for the estate. Despite dramatic shrinkage over the last 100 years or so, the current landholding retains most of the estate’s historic buildings – they tell the story of the estate’s development over the last 250 years. Most are unused and in disrepair but the current proposals include a major programme of regeneration and restoration, bringing many of them back into use.
As well as the Listed Doddington Park, the estate contains several Listed Buildings of which the most significant are included in the first phases of development: Doddington Hall (Grade I); Delves Castle Ruin (Grade I); the Star Barn (Grade II*). In heritage terms, these are all considered to be of national importance and it is hoped that once restored they can again be seen as a major asset to the local area and beyond.
Doddington Hall is the focus and 'centrepiece' of the Doddington Estate; and the 'centrepiece' of the masterplan proposals too.
The masterplan is a unique opportunity to revitalize and 're-invent' the estate as a local economic driver for investment and jobs, as well as a good place to live and pursue leisure activities.
The consultation process which began in 2010 has seen a constructive working relationship forged between the estate, the Parish and Cheshire East Councils, English Heritage and local stakeholders.
The general public and local residents were brought fully into the consultation process earlier this summer. At two exhibition events at the Blakenhall Village Hall in July, local views were expressed and recorded. It's fair to say that the vast majority of local people are in favour of the restoration and conversion works but not so comfortable with the residential development needed to facilitate and subsidize the project.
Residential development is needed because the value of the converted and restored Listed Buildings falls well short of the capital investment needed to carry out the conversion and restoration work.
As with most property developments, finance can be raised for development costs, but only up to a fixed percentage of 'completed capital value' – so this leaves a funding gap in the development appraisal.
It is proposed that this funding gap, sometimes referred to as the conservation deficit, is plugged by the value created through housing development on the estate. The current calculations show that around 135 houses will create the land value needed to make the development viable.
The pre-planning application consultation process is nearing completion. Formal detailed responses have been received from Cheshire East Council and English Heritage. The dialogue with the Parish Council and residents is ongoing.
The estate will review its proposals in the light of responses received, before submitting formal planning applications later in the year.
A series of meetings have taken place with Cheshire East Council, English Heritage and Doddington& District Parish Council, to continue the constructive dialogue over the estate masterplan and restoration of the heritage assets.
Following the purchase by the estate of the northern section of Demesne Farm (Star Barn), it was suggested by the authorities that the three most important buildings on the estate, in heritage terms, all need to fall into the first phase of development. The three being: Doddington Hall; Delves Hall (Castle ruin); Demesne Farm (Star Barn).
During the Spring and early summer, the estate submitted draft plans and then made a formal "pre-application" submission to Cheshire East Council – this allows the applicant and the Council to enter a period of intense discussion and scrutiny of the proposals. Cheshire East invited English Heritage to join the debate and the estate's representatives kept the Parish Council informed.
On July 17th and 19th, a public exhibition of the plans was held at the Blakenhall Village Hall. Over 500 leaflets were delivered to local residents inviting them to attend and a very good turnout was recorded.
The exhibition boards which explain the development proposals can be viewed by clicking here (PDF, 16mb).
The first phase can be briefly summarized as:
- The conversion of Doddington Hall into a luxury hotel and spa
- Repair and restoration works to Demesne Farm (Star Barn)
- Repair and stabilization works to Delves Hall (Castle ruin)
- Restoration and improvements to estate landscape and roads
- New housing (enabling development) on a number of sites around the estate, effectively providing the financial subsidy to cover a proportion of the restoration costs
- Enhanced electricity and water supplies both for the estate and wider area (mains gas is being investigated)
As stated in the long term masterplan, further phases of development are planned for the future including: a restaurant, farm shop and craft centre overlooking Doddington Pool; expansion of the Doddington Park Farm business units to develop a small rural enterprise park; the restoration of the Listed former stud farm/stables (near St John's Church) to provide a new equestrian centre and riding school; a small "holiday village" next to the proposed equestrian centre providing timber lodges overlooking the "Lemon Pool".
The formal pre-application process and public consultation period will continue over the summer. Responses from the authorities and public will be addressed by the estate as it strives to find a level and nature of development which can be supported and is seen as benefitting all parties. It is expected that formal planning and Listed Building applications will be submitted to Cheshire East Council in the autumn.
The New Year started well with the news that, after lengthy and protracted negotiations, the estate has been successful in buying back the northern part of Demesne Farm (Star Barn).
In discussions going back to the start of the masterplan concept in 2010, English Heritage and Cheshire East Council had agreed that any meaningful regeneration of this unique and historic farm complex would be impossible unless the northern part (previously not owned) was purchased.
Last year's urgent repairs having been completed, plans are now being drawn up for a potentially exciting restoration project which will bring new life to Samuel Wyatt's unique set of farm buildings which date from the late eighteenth century.
Representatives of the estate attended the November Parish Council Committee meeting, held at Bridgemere Primary School, to present the latest proposals for the regeneration of the estate.
The estate's project manager summarized the themes and drivers behind the long term masterplan – a strategy for investment and development aimed at bringing new life and purpose to the estate and to reverse decades of decline to the Hall and other heritage buildings.
The estate's architect outlined a number of potential housing sites spread around the outer fringes of the estate and further afield, the value of which (subject to planning consent) will enable and pay for much of the restoration work.
After a constructive question and answer session, it was agreed that the estate would investigate and address a number of concerns raised and report back to the Parish Council at a future date.
Work continues on a number of fronts.
The urgent repairs to Demesne Farm (Star Barn) were completed satisfactorily as discussions continue with English Heritage and Cheshire East Council over the future of Doddington Hall and the wider estate.
Visitor numbers continue to rise, helped by the popularity of the national Heritage Open Days event in September each year. Access to the interior of Doddington Hall is now only possible by prior arrangement. All access must be accompanied as parts of the building are inaccessible or unsafe.
The grounds of the Hall and estate are full of history and interest and there continue to be a number of weekend walking tours organized by local groups and often hosted by the estate manager.
The long-term plans for the estate are slowly but surely moving forward. A detailed dialogue regarding the conversion and future use of the Hall continues with English Heritage and Cheshire East Council. The masterplan proposals for the estate as a whole are still the subject of consultations with Cheshire East and the local Parish Council. Ecological and environmental sustainability issues are being considered with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and others.
The Listed but derelict Demesne Farm (Star Barn) is undergoing some urgent repairs and stabilising works and, in close liaison with English Heritage and Cheshire East, a long-term plan is being considered.
On Sunday 23rd March, the Blakenhall Village Hall committee organised a talk at the old stables about the Polish Camp which had been located on the estate from the 1940's up to 1960. About 70 people attended this fascinating event.
This year's public open days are listed on the website under public access.
The estate was open to the public one weekend each month over the summer, culminating in the Heritage Open Days in September. Annual visitor numbers were up in 2012; guided tours of Doddington Hall itself took place by arrangement and were very popular.
A highlight of the summer was the visit by a group of over 50 former pupils of Goudhurst College Girls School. This reunion took place on 8th September and was for ladies whohad 'boarded' at Doddington Hall during the period after the second world war up to the 1980s. On a lovely sunny day, they enjoyed a picnic in the grounds, a guided tour of the Hall and a reunion dinner in a local hostelry completed the proceedings!
The very next day, Sunday 9th September, was the last of the four Heritage Open Days and the estate's final open day of the year – about 80 visitors called by.
Discussions have continued with Cheshire East Council and English Heritage over the estate masterplan and a draft development plan will soon be published for public consultation. The plan will outline proposals for the restoration of Doddington Hall and other Listed Buildings on the estate as well as identifying a number of sites and locations for new development. The plan will explain the over-arching objective to create long-term estate sustainability with initiatives for new business, employment, housing, leisure and local services.
The estate hosted an open event on Sunday 29th January when about 120 local people enjoyed an afternoon's walk around the estate ending with a guided tour of Doddington Hall in the company of the estate manager. Organised by the Blakenhall Village Hall Committee, the event raised funds for the new Village Hall and it was noticeable how one of the main topics of conversation was the emerging masterplan for the estate, a subject of great interest to the majority of those attending.
The start of another year sees an optimistic outlook for the estate. After so many years of decline, the estate now has an emerging masterplan which is gathering momentum and support locally. It is hoped that the Grade I Listed Doddington Hall, largely empty since the mid 1980s, will attract a new long term use once its restoration is complete. Consultation is ongoing and, apart from the regular contact with Cheshire East Council and English Heritage, meetings have recently taken place with the Nantwich Civic Society, the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and a number of local organisations based on or close to the estate.
The 2012 opening dates for Doddington Hall have now been released and are available on the public access page. Apart from the monthly winter openings, the outside of the Hall will be open on 14 days next summer - including the four "Heritage Open Days" in September. Accompanied tours of the inside of the Hall can be arranged by appointment with the Estate Manager. Full details >>
The long term vision for the estate is to see its potential realised and to have it once again make a positive contribution to the economic well-being of this part of Cheshire. The view of this potential is shared by those in the creative industries, if recent weeks are anything to go by. Doddington Hall and the castle ruin (Delves Hall) have attracted separate visits from television drama and Shakespeare theatre personnel interested in using these heritage buildings in their productions.
Much behind the scenes work is being undertaken around the estate. Work has been commissioned relating to the heritage assets, notably the production of detailed plans of Doddington Hall and all its ancillary buildings and a Conservation Assessment which is researching the history and current condition of the "Star Barn". Looking to the future, preliminary ideas are emerging over potential new uses for Doddington Hall and the development of other parts of the estate. The estate is currently in touch with a number of local community and amenity groups regarding these ideas.
For the first time, the estate has taken part in the annual celebration of the built heritage - "Heritage Open Days". This national event is held at the beginning of September each year, when thousands of public and private buildings and sites are opened up for public access. This popular event is supported by English Heritage, local Councils and civic societies and always well attended. Doddington Hall was open from 8th to 11th September when visitors were offered a guided tour of both the inside and outside areas. The most popular day was Sunday with around 90 visitors including a large party from the local community.
Discussions are continuing with Cheshire East Council and English Heritage over the plans for the estate. At a meeting with Council officers on 14th July, it was agreed that the estate will continue to work up and consult on the masterplan and to work towards submitting a draft development brief in the autumn.
On 30th June, Lady Delves Broughton officially opened the new Blakenhall Village Hall. The event was extremely well attended by local people including the MP Edward Timpson.
In her speech, Lady Delves Broughton paid tribute to all those who helped fund the new building and those who worked so hard to see the project through to completion. She also referred to the emerging masterplan for the Doddington Estate and informal discussions afterwards suggested that a long term plan to revitalise the estate will generate considerable interest.
On the 7th and 8th May, the estate opened the gates to Doddington Hall as part of its commitment to holding open days throughout the year. Because of safety issues, the interior of the Hall is only open by prior appointment. Full details >>