Fire fulfils fears for Glovers Farmhouse
Fire in the early hours of Friday 17 October destroyed most of Glovers Farmhouse, fulfilling the worst fears of groups which had raised concerns about the deterioration of the building, part of the area in which Sea Change Sussex has received outline planning permission to build Gateway Road and the first stage of the proposed Bexhill Innovation Park. Nick Terdre reports.
Following the fire, Sea Change Sussex says it consulted early on Friday with Rother District Council planners because the remaining farmhouse structure was so unsafe and a decision was taken to have it dismantled. This work was still under way this week, a spokesman told HOT.
In its application for planning permission, Sea Change Sussex had sought permission to demolish the farmhouse, apparently to make way for a car park. However the planning committee said the farmhouse, along with its walled garden and 19th century barn, was a “valuable non-listed heritage asset.” It refused permission for demolition and required Sea Change to undertake an archeological investigation of the farmhouse, garden and barn.
However, concerns grew over the past year as the farmhouse became ever more dilapidated due to the attention of vandals. “Kids had already started fires in it on several occasions”, a local resident told HOT. Since the building was vacated in mid May, several attempts had been made to protect it by boarding up the windows, according to Sea Change. “But the vandals were very determined,” the spokesman told HOT. “I’m not sure what else could be done to protect the building.”
In a statement on the fire, Sea Change says it does not believe it could have been electrical as the electricity supply to the house was stopped in June. Fire service investigations had found that someone had entered the house by removing the boarding over a rear ground-floor window.
Combe Haven Defenders (CHD), which only in September criticised the lack of effective protection, said: “Although we don’t know who started the fire, what is clear is that Sea Change’s failure to protect the farmhouse has resulted in this tragic loss of a beautiful and historic building. The destruction of Glover’s Farm mirrors the destruction of Combe Haven: in each case, profit is the only motivation, and everything else is collateral damage.”
The deteriorating state of the building also aroused protests from Friends of Combe Valley, which recently started moves to have it listed.
“The Friends of Combe Valley are deeply saddened by this turn of events,” David Dennis, chair of its biodiversity committee, told HOT . “We can’t jump to conclusions about who might have done this. The fire service have, according to police, taken the lead in investigating this crime. We need to know if any fire starter substances were used and if so then the police will hopefully follow up with a full criminal investigation.
“I was right in the middle of a detailed List II application to English Heritage to save the farmhouse for community use. Friends of Combe Valley wanted to use it as a visitor’s centre for the Sidley end of the country park – but also to establish craft workshops which could have taught country crafts such as thatching, walling, ditching and hedge-plashing – and some of these training courses could have been offered to those with mental impairments as a means of gaining valuable skills in a calm and supportive environment.”
The ultimate ownership of the building lies with Trinity College, Cambridge, so Mr Dennis has written to the master to see if insurance will cover the building of a country craft and visitors’ centre. “It is certainly worth using all avenues for a building on that site rather than just a car park.” When Friends of Combe Valley was formed, it had written to Sea Change seeking to start a dialogue, but had received no reply, he says.
If the farmhouse had been a non-listed building, the authorities would have had greater powers to require Sea Change to protect it better. Questions will now be raised about the regeneration agency’s ability to look after assets under its stewardship.
Sea Change disputes that it had firm plans to build a car park on the farmhouse site. According to its spokesman, the drawing included in its planning application which showed potential car parking “was just an indicative sketch of how the site could be laid out.” There was no long-term plan for the site and any future proposal would anyway be subject to council approval, he said.
“Once the remains of the farmhouse are safely cleared safely away, we will consider any ideas for the future of the farmhouse site in co-operation with Rother District Council’s planning team,” Sea Change says in a statement.
Meanwhile construction work is due to start imminently on the first building in the Bexhill Innovation Park – Glovers House, named after the now defunct farmhouse, a business centre for up to 70 small companies with its own parking facilities.