Campaigning: Higher Melcombe Farm, Bingham, Dorset
We’ve objected to proposals that will harm the beautiful historic farm buildings at Higher Melcombe Farm, next to the Grade I listed 15th century Manor and a deserted medieval village.
In principle we support the sympathetic repair and conversion of curtilage listed outbuildings to give them a long-term use. However, we object to the level of unjustified harm the proposals would cause to this nationally important site. It is proposed to convert these agricultural buildings into accommodation, an office, Museum, car barn, games room and a swimming pool and to carry out repairs and landscaping.
We feel the application lacks detail, sensitive design, an understanding of the site, and justification for the extent of the works. The proposed pool and sun terrace are too large and would dominate the Manor House, and the detailing and works to the courtyard would have a considerable negative impact on the whole site.
Photo credit: Country Life
A site of national significance
The buildings sit to the north-east of the Grade I listed Higher Melcombe House and Chapel. Immediately to the west is the Scheduled Monument of the Deserted Medieval village of Melcombe Horsey.
We feel strongly that it is not just the setting of these buildings that deserves consideration, it is also their age, special interest, and character. They have historic interest in their agricultural use, form and the development of the site with the farm buildings arranged around a central courtyard near the Manor House.
A lack of detail in the proposals
At present the drawings and supporting documents are lacking in detail and fail to illustrate the impact of the works. The extent of demolition is unclear, and details of materials are missing. We were also concerned by the lack of understanding regarding the need for these buildings to retain their historic character and breathability.
There is minimal information regarding the reasoning behind the ‘Museum’. Is this included simply to provide an element of ‘public benefit’ to the site to balance the harm that the proposals would cause? The swimming pool complex is an area of significant change, and again, there is no justification to support it.
We have advised that an experienced Conservation Accredited professional is brought on board.
Have surveys been carried out?
This application does not contain any surveys to provide supporting evidence and inform the works. We would expect to see a detailed Condition Survey to clarify exactly what repairs are needed, how they would be undertaken, and what materials and techniques would be used.
Considering the adjacent field’s Scheduled status, there is no assessment of the archaeological potential of the site. We would also want to see a comprehensive Archaeological Assessment, especially regarding excavations for the swimming pool and services.
Although there is some scope for making changes to these buildings, we feel there are too many additional windows, doors and dormers in the proposals. The similar size and proportions of the proposed windows give the buildings a very ‘domestic’ appearance, rather than making the best use of the existing, more random openings of the farm buildings.
The pool house and sunroom require much greater detailing and justification for their overbearing size as they are entirely out of scale with the surrounding buildings, made worse by the rising ground level.
We also think that electric car charging points, energy efficiency and considerations for renewable energy need to be considered as part of the scheme.
Landscape and context
The courtyard is of great historic significance by virtue of the traditional arrangement of the farm buildings around it. We cannot support the proposed division of the courtyard with boundary hedges between units, hard landscaping and additional car parking which we feel is overly complicated and detracts from the setting of the buildings.
While we cannot support the proposals as they stand, we would be happy to work with the sites owners to develop a more sensitive and appropriate scheme.
Further advice and information
Download the SPAB’s advice note ‘The Need for Old Buildings to Breathe’.
Read Historic England’s guidance on the sensitive reuse of farm buildings.
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