Rose Lister, who has joined our team at CPRE Kent as an intern specialising in heritage, shares her thoughts below on the planned development of Connaught Barracks and the heritage implications.
Heritage can mainly be seen in our built environment, however it is all that is green and growing and all that flurries and scuttles too. Our rivers and wildlife, green open spaces and villages are where we find our identity. England’s green and pleasant land is so rarely found in our towns and cities, but as the pressure to build expands ever outwards and threatens our environmental heritage it is important to realise that what we have is precious and worth fighting for.
That is not to say that we cannot develop our heritage. Development is needed and is indicative of a healthy society. Rather we would see that it is done right. A golden example of this is the prospective development of the Connaught Barracks in Dover. The sight ticks so many boxes that it is the perfect place for a local planning authority to regenerate.
- It is a brownfield site.
- It has been empty and unused for a decade.
- The majority of the buildings are of little historical and architectural value.
- It is not in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Fort Burgoyne photos above by Wevsky
That said it is home to a Victorian fort, Fort Burgoyne. Though overgrown and derelict, the fort is part of our military history and should be treated with respect. Therefore the question is not should Connaught Barracks be developed but rather can it be done right?
Now for the down sides of the proposal.
- The Scheduled Ancient monument of Fort Burgoyne: Built in the 1860’s, Fort Burgoyne was built to support the defences at Dover Castle and Western Heights. Now owned by the Land Trust with a large endowment to restore the site and open it to the public, the old fort once provided lodgings for soldiers, officers and guns. Being part of the barracks until the mid-2000s the fort is well preserved. However any development to the area around the fort should be sympathetic to the scheduled monument that hugs the site.
- Dover Castle: The development site overlooks the historic Dover Castle. As the original Fort was placed to defend the castle and port of Dover the new development will have an impact on the historic environment.
- Kent Downs AONB: Though not in the Kent Downs AONB, the development is right on the doorstep. Though this offers the new development stunning views of the castle, the sea and the AONB the view from the AONB into the development must be taken into account.
- Local wildlife: Understandably in the 10 years or so that the site has been derelict local wildlife has moved in. The trees and ivy that surround the old fort have become home to some protected wildlife species that should be taken into account. This can be done in small ways such as putting up bat boxes and incorporating a pond that encourages insects that the bats feed on.
Now the plans put forward by the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency, which owns the site, do not encompass the old fort itself; however the development should still be sympathetic towards the historic asset next door. The plans at the moment focus around the west wing of Fort Burgoyne. It is proposed that a tree line buffer and a road separate the new from the old.
Regarding the west wing of the fort is makes sense that, with its proximity to the new development, it be redeveloped in the coming years. To restore the fort to its original purpose is unlikely and superfluous; however if regenerated sympathetically it could encourage the local economy and develop the community. In other areas, similar assets have been transformed into wedding venues, holiday lets, museums and community buildings. Who is to say that Fort Burgoyne could not be equally as advantageous to the local area?
In Portsmouth, Crownhill Fort was in a similar boat to Fort Burgoyne. The dilapidated buildings however were transformed into holiday lets, a wedding venue, conference centre, business centre and educational attraction. The project uses all of the fort and profits are put towards the maintenance and upkeep of the fort.
Fort Burgoyne is currently in the hands of The Land Trust with plans to bring it back into the public stage. It will be interesting to see what the charity does to breathe new life into this piece of Dover’s history that has so much promise.
To read our news report on Connaught Barracks click here.
January 20th 2016.