Neach Hill is a Grade II listed Regency Villa built circa 1814 located in the Parish of Donington, close to RAF Cosford. It is currently surrounded by dense woodland and therefore barely visible from the public highway. Research has revealed that the immediate environs were landscaped as “Pleasure Grounds” (as described in 1839 sales particulars). The Gardens and Pleasure Grounds consisted of a series of woodland walks, sunken paths and gardens, a dingle, rose garden and raised viewing mound, along with significant specimen trees. It is the relationship between the House and its original landscape which gives Neach Hill its unique ‘sense of place’ and it is the intention of the proposals to conserve and restore both the House and the landscapes in order to re-establish this relationship. Even now, when one visits Neach Hill, it still has a poignant almost haunted atmosphere of a ‘lost domain’.
In the early part of this century the house itself was in relatively good order, however, the previous owners allowed the property to relapse into a deleterious state; culminating in a fire which caused the collapse of the roof over the stairwell.
An aerial overview of the Estate and its environs can be seen here: Neach Hill Estate Drone Footage
Understanding the Heritage
A Heritage Statement has been prepared for the site by TDR Heritage. It is designed to provide sufficient and proportionate information about the history of Neach Hill Estate and its significance to help inform future plans for development.
The significance of Neach Hill is recognised in its designation as a Grade II Listed Building, which acknowledges that it is of national significance for its architectural and historic interest.
The significance relates not only to the Main House, but to elements of the wider Neach Hill Estate, specifically including the relatively untouched Coach House, barns and walled garden, formal gardens and parkland, all of which form a fundamental part of its setting and character.
The Statement indicates the buildings and site comprise seven elements:
It states these structures sit within the remains of a designed landscape comprising a parkland, tree lined avenue and the remains of a mature formal garden. Although a number of features have been stolen or damaged, the condition of the Main House does not diminish its significance and there is considerable potential for the reinstatement of lost features from further historic building and landscape archaeological investigation.
The statement has carried out an assessment of significance of the Heritage Asset and in summary concludes:
Of particular significance is the part the site played in the expansion and development of RAF Cosford, following its requisition during the Second World War, and these in their own right are likely to be of national significance.
The owners accept that as part of the planning process it will be necessary to demonstrate the appropriateness of using Enabling Development to fund the restoration of the House and Grounds, and thus ensure the long-term future of the Heritage Asset in an acceptable manner. The full statement of significance is found below.
Condition of the Heritage Asset and Approach to Conservation of the Listed Buildings and Landscape
As mentioned in the introduction, Neach Hill is currently in a parlous state with a partial collapse of the roof coverings and the remaining roof coverings in very poor condition. The property is currently boarded up as it poses a risk to Health & Safety. Its current state poses some very significant challenges on how to approach its repair and conservation, and is considered to be at its ‘tipping point’. (See photographs).
Firstly, a very carefully prepared methodology will need to be developed in order to gain safe access to the building. The first phase will be to remove all loose and unstable roofing materials at high level by lowering operatives, in a cage from a crane, into the building. Once the building is made safe at roof level, the process will then be repeated, working our way down through the floors.
Once this task has been completed then safe access to the interior will be afforded in order to carry out clearances.
Clearances in themselves will also prove challenging, even though the presence of asbestos is unknown, one has to assume that there may be asbestos within the debris and therefore anything removed from the building will need to be done in a controlled manner and disposed of safely. At the same time an archaeological methodology will need to be developed in order to retrieve as much evidence as possible of interior detail such as architraves, skirtings, doors etc, decorative plaster work and any residual fixtures and fittings, in order that the interiors can be authentically restored. Paint sections will also be taken on plaster work in order to establish any original colour schemes.
All of the above operations incur considerable costs even before the repair and restoration of the house is considered.
Once all clearances have taken place, an access and protection scaffold will be put in place and a detailed condition report will then be compiled which will inform the process going forward.
The intention is to fully restore the building to its original condition using ‘best practice’ conservation techniques and methodologies to include structural timber repairs, slating and lead work, joinery repairs and decorative plaster work, stone, brick and render. The condition report will inform the repair strategy. Detailed specifications and work schedules will then be prepared.
The Need for Enabling Development
As can be seen, the property and the surrounding landscape are in a very poor condition requiring a considerable amount of capital investment in order to restore the House and its significant historic interiors, re-establish the original landscape and put in hand a Woodland Management Scheme.
Detailed cost planning has been carried out and it has concluded that the considerable cost for restoring the House, its interiors and its landscape will greatly exceed its end value, leading to a large funding gap. This funding gap is known as the “Conservation Deficit”.
Working strictly within the parameters of Historic England’s “Guidance on Enabling Developments” it is intended to create a housing scheme along lines of a model village on land to the south of the house adjacent to Long Lane, the site being carefully selected so that it does not impact on the setting of the Historic Asset. The amount of development is strictly controlled and limited in order to generate sufficient profit to close the “Conservation Deficit”.
Following Pre-Application advice from the Local Authority it has confirmed this approach is being supported by Planning and Conservation Officers.
In order to ensure the long-term viability of Neach Hill a detailed Options Appraisal was carried out, concluding that the only viable use for the restored House would be a “Boutique Hotel”. This would mean that there was a minimal intervention in the historic fabric within the house itself, providing key reception and function rooms and in the order of twelve generous suites of bedroom accommodation.
Additional bedroom accommodation and spa and gym facilities will be provided adjacent to the original Bottom Yard buildings and walled garden. This has also been agreed in principle in Pre-Application advice from the Local Authority. These proposals are the most appropriate way to ensure the long-term viability of Neach Hill.
Detailed Ecology surveys of habitats and any protected species such as bats are being carried out and mitigation will be put in place to ensure that any impacts of these features will be avoided. Biodiversity enhancements for habitats and species will be incorporated into the final design.
To help us develop opportunities which will deliver public benefits to the local community we are launching a short online survey. Participation in this survey will help feed into the development of the planning application.
A Public Exhibition to register comments about the scheme will take place in due course; please look out for updates on our Website and Social Media: AA Instagram
In the meantime, for any other enquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org