Crescent Gardens: War of words over £75m plans

Future open to debate - The former Harrogate Borough Council offices at Crescent Gardens.
Future open to debate - The former Harrogate Borough Council offices at Crescent Gardens.

One of Harrogate's most respected guardians of the town's heritage has clashed in a war of words over ambitious plans to redevelop the town's crucial Crescent Gardens area.

Long-term critics of the Crescent Gardens development, Harrogate Civic Society, were out in force at the recent public consultation held by Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe’s company, ATP Crescent Gardens at Rudding Park Hotel.

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Now it is highlighting its concerns over some of the details in the lavish £75 million plans to transform the former headquarters of Harrogate Borough Council into luxury apartments at Crescent Gardens with an art gallery, restaurant and wellbeing centre.

Crescent Gardens: Criticisms of development plans


Henry Pankhurst, Harrogate Civic Society’s chairman, said:

1. There were several other different ways of redeveloping the empty building and public space located between the Royal Baths and the Royal Hall.

2. And he claimed that the one chosen did not live up to the original intentions stated either by Mr Thorpe or Harrogate Borough Council who are responsible for the site.

3. Mr Pankhurst said: “Crescent Gardens building could be simply re-used with a few adjustments and renovation, or re-used but with extensions. It’s also possible to retain the basic building but adapt the interior accommodation.

Another possibility would be demolition and the creation of completely new building.
“This is what is proposed except that the frontage is shown as being rebuilt but with some alteration to the windows.

“This is not what we expected from the developer’s original proposal or from the Council’s Media Release of nearly two years ago.
“We are not being offered retention of the central section, which is what commended the scheme to many, including the council.

4. “The council’s original media release said ‘The inclusion of an art gallery and restaurant will ensure that the building’s central civic spaces will be preserved so that they can be enjoyed by members of the public in the future’.

“Under the plans, not even the grand central staircase is likely to be retained, which is said by the developer to be of second class stone and of dubious structure.
“The phrase ‘conservation of the building’ was used by the developer in the original proposal.”

5. “There was also a suggestion in the original proposal that pieces from the Borough Council art collection could be housed in the gallery, but it seems to be a wholly private gallery with a small entrance fee.”

Crescent Gardens: What developer's architect says


Speaking on behalf of Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe, architect Henry Squire of the project’s architects, Squire & Partners who have also been responsible for the Chelsea Barracks development and other major builds in London, rejected the criticisms.

1. Mr Squire said on behalf of the project that the plans sought to strike the balance between maintaining the character of this conservation area whilst also bringing a dilapidated building back to life and relandscaping the whole of Crescent Gardens.

He said: “The new proposal will revitalise the gardens outside the front of the building, re furbish and bring back to life the bandstand, connect the building with the gardens by removing the road and create a fantastic new piece of public realm at the heart of the area.
“It will also improve the appearance of the building both on the front and rear elevations.

2. He rejected comments by Harrogate Civic Society that the conservation of the building was not a feature of the plans.
“We believe the building’s essential character is being conserved, that of being a neo-classical building sitting on a public square, and greatly improved.”

3. When asked whether it might have been a better idea to have demolished the building entirely and built from scratch, he said it had been considered.
He said: “We have considered this and we were in favour of exploring this option. However our client and planning officers have been very insistent that the front façade of the building should be retained in character.
“This is what is proposed except that the frontage is shown as being rebuilt but with some alteration to the windows.”

4. As to whether most of the building could have been saved and apartments inserted in the existing layout, he said it simply wasn’t practical.
Mr Henry Squire said: “Crescent Gardens building could be simply re-used with a few adjustments and renovation, or re-used but with extensions.
“We have investigated in some detail the potential to re-use the existing building in its entirety for the clients use (high-end residential).
“Whilst it is possible to fit residential accommodation into the existing building it is heavily compromised.
“There are a number of changes of level, difficulties in making units work, difficulties in access, there would be a lot of single aspect units with poor outlook, and the quality and type of accommodation provided would render the scheme unviable.”

5. As to claims that the original intention at the very start of the process was to keep the central section of Crescent Gardend totally intact, he said: “We are keeping the external façade of the central section.

Mr Squire said: “We do not believe the interiors are important enough to keep to warrant the huge effect on the viability of the scheme if we keep it.
“We believe the new art gallery that we are putting back will be a truly special space and much better than what is currently there.”

Crescent Gardens: What happens next

Harrogate Borough Council, whose planning team continues to be engaged with the developer’s professional consultants, said it was now expecting a full planning application by Mr Thorpe to be submitted in April and would be holding its own public consultation thereafter.

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