St Leonards Church and Undercliff: Preliminary Thoughts
The working assumption of this report is to consider St Leonards Church in the context of the wider townscape. See attached birds’ eye view and aerial shot – in the .pdf below
Further consideration may nevertheless demonstrate that this is over-ambitious or unnecessary and that it will be more appropriate to deal separately with each issue in the area.
There are three urgent issues which need to be addressed. The stability and future of the Church itself. The stability of the land underlying the footpath. The possible risks to Victoria Court. No action is not an option.
There are other important issues which require attention in the immediate vicinity and seriously detract from the amenities of local residents, the Conservation Area and the wider Town. The neglected wildlife site (H7) and the slope below the cemetery; the incomplete Undercliff housing development; the poor appearance of the Church “forecourt” and the car park on the seafront; the shortage of community facilities in the area.
At first sight there are significant opportunities in the area. The Church has a maritime theme and (an) appropriate use(s) could build on this to enhance the cultural and tourism “offer” of the Town. The existing role of the Church as a visual and physical focal point for the Conservation Area could be enhanced with improved links across the A259 – see the Council’s Seafront Strategy. The Church could be in part or whole put to community use. The Church might be converted or partly redeveloped to provide housing. Improvements to the land on either side of the Church would enhance the Conservation Area and add cultural and tourism interest e.g. by improving access to Burtons’ cemetery. This is not a comprehensive list and should be refined as engagement with interested parties and research is carried out. Clear options would need to be developed and choices made!
Possible Objectives (in no particular priority order)
1. To secure a future for the church building in whole or part;
2. To secure the future of the footpath;
3. To stabilise the land;
4. To secure the wildlife interests (if any) on the land;
5. To remove/deal with the eyesore of the incomplete Undercliff development;
6. To enhance the visual appearance of the church “forecourt”;
7. To upgrade the quality of the sloping land to east and west of the church;
8. To enhance the visual and physical relationship between the church and the seafront;
9. To enhance the appearance of the seafront car park.
There are seven groups of key players (the list is not necessarily complete and may overlap e.g. a funding Foundation may wish/need to take ownership of the church building):
• Those with direct “ownership”: The Church authorities – the Diocese, the Parish and the parishioners, the Borough Council, the Foreshore Trust, the County Council – the highway, the owners of the Undercliff site and their insurers, the electricity company and other utility providers;
• Those with statutory controls/responsibilities: the Borough Council – Local Plan, Local Development Management Plan, Conservation Area and listed buildings, Building Regulations, the Health and Safety Executive, Environment Agency (?), the County Council ref. the footpath, residual responsibilities of the Diocese (?), others;
• Those with advisory responsibilities: the Borough Council – the Museum, tourism, promotion etc., the County Council – archaeology, etc., English Nature, Historic England, etc. etc.;
• Local residents, in particular immediate neighbours but a wider community including former parishioners, West Hill Road Residents, Boscobel Road Residents, others?;
• Amenity groups: including Burtons’ St Leonards Society, East Sussex Wildlife Trust, the 20th Century Society, Redundant Churches Group, Coastal Users Group, HUB, Ramblers Association, etc. etc
• Potential users/developers of the buildings and land. Work will be needed to explore these, might include e.g. Optivo and Homes England ref flats or the Shipwreck Museum and the Science Museum etc. BUT may be many other possibilities which need to be considered in a systematic and disciplined professional manner. Keeping our ears open and getting early advice from e.g. the Redundant Churches Group, English Heritage, 20th Century Society will be vital;
• Potential funding agencies. Rather similar. HVA and ESCC can give advice on (in particular) local funding opportunities and these should be straightforward to tap e.g. to put together a workshop or a dossier of presentational materials for larger bids. However, larger scale endeavours will need to be identified and approached in a systematic and disciplined professional manner based on expert advice e.g. Association of Charitable Foundations: https://www.acf.org.uk/downloads/publications/ACF147_Foundation_Giving_Trends_2018_For_web_spreads.pdf
A Strategic Approach: Phase 1
Work towards creating two things:
• a polished dossier/portfolio of options for the area for use in making initial approaches to potential larger funding/development agencies (actual funding bids would of course need to adapt to the Institutions’ own requirements);
• a legal basis and structure for a Community Interest Company to take forward solid project proposals.
To reach these:
1. Seek (and take?) advice from experienced groups such as Locality, Redundant Churches Group, Heritage Lottery fund etc. Tap ESCC and HBC advice.
2. Further develop background info. Already got a great deal, especially on the ground conditions and history of the sites. Pull together and make accessible – accessible paper version in South Lodge plus via B St L’s website initially? Needs funding (Foreshore Trust/Locality?) for collation and presentation and someone to do the graft (part-time contract if funding found – c.f. work of the White Rock group with part-time? Needs supervision/management, from Museum?).
3. In parallel. HUDG (?) to lead a walkabout and hold a preliminary charrette mainly for amenity groups and local residents to (1) clarify locally perceived needs/issues and (2) to provide preliminary sketch ideas to illustrate dossier. Needs funds for venue, materials, publicity (RIBA?).
4. In parallel. Key owners and statutory agencies to be invited to meet together round table to tease out their key objectives and concerns and get them on board.
5. To build up knowledge and perhaps some preliminary soundings of possible users/developers and possible major funding institutions.
6. Feed the above into a public exhibition and a mini-conference (not sure about workshop) to bring all this material together and agree objectives of a CIC.slideshow for presentation
For some more comments on the geotechnical issues of the stabilisation of the area and some costs please see page 5 of the Burtons’ St Leonards Spring 2019 Newsletter