Woolton Woods…and Woolton Hall

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Photo 1 Woolton Hall Photo 2 St Julie’s school Photo 3 Looking across green wedge to Woolton Village

Woolton Hall is one of only a handful of Grade 1 listed buildings in Liverpool. It dates back to 1704 and its interior and exterior were remodelled by Robert Adam in 1774. It is considered to be one of the famous architect’s best works. After the Second World War it came into the ownership of the Notre Dame religious order and  in 1973 was declared redundant and permission was sought to demolish it. A public campaign saved it and it was refurbished as a public house/function rooms. It is now vacant.

St Julies Catholic Girls’ High School was built next to it at that time and it is fair to say that in architectural terms this was a disaster. The buildings are tightly packed in and block most views of the hall. The main building material used was the common breezeblock available in builders’ yards – you would generally only use them for the inner leaves of buildings where they can’t be seen. The hall and many buildings in Woolton are built in local red sandstone, and the use of breezeblocks in the school can only be regarded as a huge ‘v-sign’ to anyone with any sensibility to such things. Around the same time the nearby community centre was also built in concrete bricks – which you would generally only use in a building’s foundations where they can’t be seen.

So what was going on? The original boundary of  the Woolton Village Conservation area abuts the site and it was designated in 1969. So you’ve got the negative effect on the conservation area as well as the Grade One listed building issue. 1973 was just before local government re-organisation and it was a time of rapid change. One possibility is that money and time were short. But it wouldn’t have cost much to use reasonable bricks. Maybe something else was going on?

The latest proposal by the mayor of Liverpool is to rebuild the school, utilising the field adjacent, which is in the green wedge, and sell off some of the land for private housing. It would be funded by some form of private finance initiative, maybe using the capital receipts from the housing development.

This would be in direct contravention of the Council’s own policies as set out in the Unitary Development Plan (UDP), approved Nov 2002, which is the statutory document for guiding planning decisions in the city. These policies are:

Green Wedge Policy OE3 The site is a key part of the Calderstones/Woolton Green Wedge. Green Wedge policies are very similar to Green Belt policies. The aim is to protect and improve the open character of the wedge and not grant planning permission for new development that would affect its predominantly open character. Tellingly, it is also specifically stated in the UDP that Liverpool does not have a shortage of land supply for development and there is no need to safeguard land for this purpose.

New Development in Conservation Areas policy HD11  The Woolton Village conservation area was designated in 1969 and later extended to include Woolton Woods/Camp Hill and the school/hall site, which provide a key wooded setting to the village and, with its sandstone walls, lodges and the hall itself, make a major contribution to its quality. The policy states that planning permission will not be granted for development in a conservation area which fails to preserve or enhance its character.

This isn’t me or the Woolton Society or Fred Bloggs in the local pub saying this. It is the Council itself. In a legally binding document. So it was with some incredulity that I discovered that the Council’s planning officers have informed the Woolton Society that they ‘see no problem building on conservation/green wedge areas’.

If a Council makes a bad planning decision the application can be called in by the Secretary of State and I would fully expect that if this proposal goes through it would be so called in. I would also expect that The Royal Town Planning Institute would be informed.

The proposals have met strong opposition from local people and groups but there is the obvious wish for parents of children at the school to secure a better school. Alternative sites available locally are said to be not suitable for a variety of reasons. In my opinion, either an appropriate alternative site must be found or St Julie’s temporarily re-located whilst a new school is built on the existing site.

But hang on. What about the hall? It hasn’t been in use for a number of years. Is it being maintained? It’s a tight site – any new housing development would be a lot easier and more lucrative if the hall wasn’t there. It could obviously be converted into flats or used as a pub/ restaurant like, say, Allerton Hall in Clarke Gardens. But the tightness of the site won’t help eg in providing a suitable landscaped setting and car parking. It would, of course be a magnificent tourist attraction if suitably restored and used and made open to the public.

I just wonder what the next episode in the saga will be. Are we being set up for a listed building v green wedge deal, ie ‘we need the field to rebuild the school and save the building’? Watch this wedge, sorry, space.