Council plans action over long-vacant listed building as it looks to transform Bath’s Milsom Quarter

March 3, 2023

A compulsory purchase order could be issued on in Bath’s King Edward’s School Building, which has been left empty for nearly four decades, under plans to revitalise the Milsom Quarter area of the city centre.

The Grade II listed building on Broad Street, pictured, which dates from 1752, closed as a school in 1986. Three years later it was bought by Yorkshire brewery Samuel Smith’s, which received planning consent in 2010 to turn it into a 12-bedroom hotel with a restaurant and bar. 

However, no work on the conversion has apparently taken place and, with Bath & North East Somerset Council looking to upgrade the area around Milsom Street to make it a fashion and retail quarter for the city, attention is focussing on the building’s future.

At the same time the council aims to introduce short-term lettings in the Old Post Office building while a scheme to redevelop it as the new home for the city’s Fashion Museum is progressed.

In January the council pledged the new museum would still go ahead despite the project failing to secure any investment from the government’s ‘levelling-up’ fund.

The council had bid for £20m – more than half the project’s total budget. The Fashion museum, which was housed in the Assembly Rooms for nearly 60 years, closed last October.

The council plans to relocate it in the Old Post Office, pictured, on the corner of New Bond Street and Northgate Street. 

In January the council said it was exploring alternative ways of funding the Re-Fashioning Bath project, which aims to trigger a wider regeneration of the Milsom Quarter and attract high-end retailers and workspaces for creative businesses as well as creating a new home for the world-leading museum.

Plans to bring the two redundant buildings back into use to help revitalise the area are to be discussed by the council’s cabinet next Thursday.

Council deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, Cllr Richard Samuel, said: “These are two landmark buildings that currently detract from the vitality of the city centre and bringing them back into use is crucial if we are to deliver on our vision of turning Milsom Quarter into the South West’s leading fashion destination.

“The King Edward’s School building has been empty for almost four decades. Despite the owner twice receiving planning permission to convert it into a hotel and restaurant, it remains empty and is now at risk.

“We want to work with the owner to bring the building back into use, but if unsuccessful we may need to consider a compulsory purchase order.

“Introducing short-term lets in the Old Post Office Building, while we draw-up plans for the Fashion Museum, makes economic sense. It will increase footfall in New Bond Street and create income to support the Fashion Museum redevelopment.”

The report to Cabinet sets out the council’s objectives for the King Edward’s School Building, including helping to speed-up the delivery of a suitable scheme to bring the building back into use, safeguarding its listed building status and ensuring it makes a positive contribution to the broader regeneration of Milsom Quarter and Bath city centre while avoiding excessive cost and risk to the council.

Cabinet will also consider introducing short term only lets within the Old Post Office Building ahead of its renovation, which is expected to begin within the next three to four years. The aim is to secure tenants who will contribute to the regeneration objectives for the Milsom Quarter.

The council – which has described its Milsom Quarter masterplan as a vision for the next 20 years – believes the relocated museum, regarded as internationally significant, will be key for the recovery of Bath’s pandemic-hit tourism sector as well as acting as a catalyst for the transformation of the surrounding area into a new fashion quarter, attracting high-end retailers and workspaces for creative businesses as well as 180 new homes.

Originally called the Museum of Costume, the Fashion Museum opened in the National Trust-owned Assembly Rooms in 1963 after costume designer, collector, writer and scholar Doris Langley Moore OBE donated her private collection to the city.

It includes garments from the 1600s right up to the present day. The collections also include thousands of fashion archive documents, photographs and drawings, including the work of fashion designers, makers and retailers.

The museum also has an international reach. In 2021 more than 603,000 people worldwide saw Fashion Museum objects, thanks to its loans programme.

King Edward’s School Building photo: Casper Farrell @BrilliantBath

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