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Cabinet Member urges own council to save ‘Welsh Versailles’ from becoming derelict

27 Apr 2021 5 minute read
Kinmel Hall with (inset) Dr. Mark Baker.

A Cabinet Member has urged his own council to step in to save a building that has been dubbed the ‘Welsh Versailles’ from becoming derelict.

Cllr Mark Edward Baker, who holds the Heritage and Culture portfolio on Conwy County Borough Council, put out a statement after reports that Kinmel Hall, near Abergele, Conwy, is going under the hammer – with a guide price of over £750,000.

The Tory councillor, who is as part of a ruling Conservative-led coalition with Independents on the council, is an architectural historian, an author of several books on country houses, estates and their families, as well as chair of Gwrych Castle Trust.

He believes the hall, which has been listed as one of the UK’s 10 most at-risk Victorian buildings, is at the point of imminent, catastrophic decline after years of neglect.

Cllr Baker and Cllr Pauline Heap-Williams, who represents Gele Ward, and have called on Conwy County Borough Council to outline a plan for emergency repairs.

The building, which is believed to be Wales’ largest country home, is currently owned by British Virgin Island-registered Acer Properties Ltd BVI’s.

The property is being sold by Allsop auctions, London which has provided 45 photographs of the hall on its website to try and entice interest from potential buyers.

Conwy Council has been urged impose strict conditions on the sale, so that any proposals for reuse respect both the setting of the listed buildings as well as their character and fabric, in line with their Grade I status.

It has been warned that new additional buildings in the grounds would be unacceptable as they would destroy the historic essential setting of the house.

The splendid French chateau-style building, which was completed in 1874, has not been occupied since the turn of the century.

Kinmel Hall was designed by the architect WE Nesfield in the style of the Palace of Versailles.

It was originally built as a ‘calendar house’ since it had 365 windows, 122 rooms and 12 entrances.

The building also has a grand central staircase, impressive formal rooms, a former chapel, multiple bedrooms, as well as a range of outbuildings including a courtyard stable block and storage barns.

‘Parolous condition’

Cllr Mark Edward Baker, said: “Whilst we welcome the placing of the property on the market by auction, it must be offered at a price reflecting its parlous condition.

“Putting the property on the market cannot be allowed to become a reason for a further delay for initiating a programme of emergency repairs.

“Conwy Council must make public the schedule of repairs and costings of repairs so potential purchasers understand the liability that they will be taking on.”

Cllr Pauline Heap-Williams, Gele Ward, has said “It is vital that a list of essential, urgent repairs is carried out within the next three months. We understand this may have been drawn up.

“Permanent repairs must be carried out to a high standard and alterations must be kept to a minimum, respect the character of the interior and not cause harm to either its architectural or historic interest.

“The owners must undertake to let a contract enabling repairs to begin within a month. If the building is sold during this time, the emergency repairs list must be formally attached to the property and title.”

A spokesperson for Conwy County Borough Council said: “We’ll watch the sale with interest. We are able to offer advice and guidance to any prospective purchasers.”

The auctioneers say the building is “suitable for a variety of alternative uses including hotel, conference centre, educational establishment and conversion to residential units, subject to consents.”

‘Extensive renovation’ 

However, they add that it is “in need of extensive renovation.”

The hall was built by the Hughes family, whose wealth was generated from copper mining on Anglesey.

They only occupied the house, which also boasted a stunning garden designed by the same designer who laid out London’s Regent’s Park, for a couple of generations.

The building was then leased out and used for a variety of different purposes through much of the 20th Century and was home to Clarendon Girls’ School for about 30 years.

That ended when a fire swept through much of the hall in 1975. However, much of the inside of the building has now fallen into disrepair and thieves have stripped off much of the lead from its roof.

Any new buyer will have to spend a considerable amount of money to bring it back to its formal glory.

Previously, a concerned group – The Friends of Kinmel Hall – said enforcement was needed to save the empty building becoming derelict.

It was only recently that Conwy council said the owners Acer Properties Ltd BVI’s, which had owned the Grade I listed hall for the past 10 years, had pledged to spend money on repairs which meant it did not think enforcement action was needed at this time.

Kinmel Hall will be sold online by Allsop, London on May 13.

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