January's Public Inquiry into the proposed demolition of Sandown Hall was originally intended to take two days. In the event, it took five days for the Inspector to hear all the evidence, making it the longest planning Inquiry which Liverpool has seen for many years. It was also one of the coldest, the City Council's calor gas heater failing to make much of an impact on the room in the Municipal Annexe in which the proceedings took place. On the final day the Council's solicitor announced that the gas had run out, and they didn't have another cylinder in stock! Not surprisingly, the few members of the public who came didn't stay very long; but we are very grateful to all those Society members - including Councillor Bill Roberts - who did make the effort to attend and give evidence on our behalf:
On one side of the room sat Sandown Hall's owners - Mr George Downey and his two partners - together with their solicitor and various witnesses including an architect, an estate agent and a building surveyor. The City Council's solicitor sat on the same side but - the Council having voted in favour of demolition against the advice of its Planning Officer - it was a private planning consultant who gave evidence on their behalf.
On the other side of the room sat those opposed to demolition: English Heritage, the Georgian Group, the Save Our City Campaign and our own Wavertree Society witnesses. Mike Chitty presented the Society's case, and withstood about an hour's cross-examination from the owners' solicitor and the Council's solicitor. He was also able to cross-examine the owners and their witnesses. Among the points to emerge were the following:
1. Mr Downey had paid only £700,000 for the Hall and grounds in October 1990, though United Biscuits had been offered more than this by the then Manager of the Hall. Then in May 1993 he sold just part of the grounds to Wainhomes for £850,000.
2. Mr Downey persuaded 200 local residents to sign his petition in favour of demolition, and the creation of a 'nursing village' on the site. But at the Inquiry he admitted that this was not a viable proposition, and his real intention is to sell the land for housing (for which purpose he has already been offered £416,000).
3. The Hall was in reasonable condition, without apparent structural defects, in 1993. During the space of two months in 1995, however - after the City Council's decision to support demolition but before the Secretary of State's decision to call a Public Inquiry - the sandstone blocks comprising the front elevation became dislodged and damaged, to such an extent that repairs to the building are now costed at £1.2 million.
The Inspector will, by now, have written his report to the Secretary of State, summarising what he heard, mad and saw at the Public Inquiry and the subsequent site visit. The Secretary of state (John Gummer) is not obliged to accept the Inspector's recommendation, and it will probably be several months before his decision is known. If listed building consent for demolition is refused, it is likely that Sandown Hall wilt be handed over to a Building Preservation Trust for restoration Meanwhile, English Heritage have put scaffolding, boarding and tarpaulins round the building to stop its condition deteriorating further, and to prevent access.