Should Surrey's historic buildings be converted?By Rebecca Younger
November 09, 2012
Surrey has its fair share of historic buildings, unfortunately some have fallen into a state of disrepair. It's perhaps little wonder then that property developers are snapping up sites for conversion.
From Albury Park Mansion near Guildford, which is currently being converted into modern luxury apartments, to Gresham Mill in Old Woking, which is also being converted into new homes, there is a wealth of redevelopment taking place.
According to property experts, it's not cheap to convert a property – in fact it makes more financial sense to build a new home from scratch. However, land shortage coupled with the exclusivity historic conversions can offer make them a worthwhile investment for a developer.
“Converted properties offer a fantastic blend of character features with modern day convenience,” said Douglas Sleaper, sales director at Townends estate agents. “Aside from the fact it is generally more expensive to convert a property than to build one, exclusivity has a value which accounts for a more premium price tag. The uniqueness of conversions tend to prove extremely popular with buyers.
“There are of course drawbacks. Taking a themed building designed for a specific purpose and making it fit for someone to live in means sometimes compromises have to be made. However, these are usually balanced by greater benefits such as high ceilings, large volumes of space and period features exclusive to that property.”
But is it right to be converting these historic sites or should they be left as a reminder of our past?
Earlier this year a group of Sherlock Holmes fans won their fight to stop the redevelopment of Undershaw, the former Hindhead home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and where he penned 13 of his books featuring the famous detective.
Development company, Fossway, had been granted permission to convert the dilapidated mansion into a terrace of three houses and a three-storey wing of five town houses, but a High Court ruling in May overturned the permission and listed building consent.
However, there are times when conversion could save a building from disappearing altogether.
"When it comes to whether historic properties should be converted, it’s a matter of opinion, but any of great significance are usually protected," added Mr Sleaper.
“In actual fact, when it comes to church conversions, it is thought that the Victorians simply built too many even in relation to demand in their time, so conversions at least retain these buildings’ character but avoid them sadly falling in to disrepair and ultimately disappearing.”
The Normandy Chapel (pictured) is a former Congregational Chapel, which dates back to 1825, and has now been converted into a residential property. On the market with Townends in Guildford (01483 300700) for £495,000, the small chapel was built by local worshippers on land that was given to them and was the first official place of worship in Normandy.
A gentleman called Daniel Deedman served as the Superintendent of the chapel for 30 years, helping to establish services, form a thriving Sunday school and encourage local families to give their support both financially and spiritually. A plaque in his honour remains in the converted property.
“It is very definitely appropriate to convert historic buildings,” added Tom Grillo, partner at Grillo LLP Chartered Surveyors in Godalming. “The particular purpose for which some buildings may have been designed may not have a place in the modern world. Therefore, in order to ensure that an interesting old building is properly maintained, a viable modern use has to be found, and that will often entail conversion.
“Conversion is appropriate for buildings for which there is no current use. Ancient barns are a typical example and I’ve designed and supervised the conversion of a number of redundant barns over recent years."
But there is a caveat to conversions, he added: “Arguably, many historic houses should not be converted into a multiple of small units. "Historically, the demand for large houses standing in extensive grounds varies with the economic fortunes of the country. During some decades the wealthy are very wealthy and demand huge houses, whereas in other decades they are heavily taxed, and cannot afford to maintain big historic buildings.”