£25m repair bill for Ashton Court
ASHTON Court Mansion is fast falling into disrepair and needs an estimated £25 million spent on it to restore it to its former glory.
Regarded by some as a jewel of British architecture, it stands in 850 acres of popular parkland on the edge of Bristol and yet it has stood virtually empty and neglected for decades.
The mansion is in a very poor state of repair and needs £20,000 worth of work just to make it safe enough for experts to examine the most dilapidated areas in detail.
Now, after all these years of being forgotten, city councillors have agreed to go ahead with nearly £250,000 worth of consultancy works to decide its future.
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The 12-month project will include a range of surveys and research before drawing up options on what can be done. The council has ruled out its own restoration programme because the costs are so high – one estimate has suggested as much as £25 million – and would therefore be unreasonable to expect council tax payers to pick up the bill.
Besides, restoration is only one cost – the bill for maintaining the mansion could be as much as £1 million a year.
The study will therefore explore how the grade one listed building could be upgraded and used to generate an income. One possibility, for example, would be to use the mansion as a conference centre.
Once a business plan has been drawn up, the council might be able to win funding for a phased makeover which would probably be spread over several years.
Peter Weeks, who has become a self-styled expert on the history of the mansion, described it as a "real life encyclopedia of British architecture dating back to the 1400s".
He told The Post: "Most of the house is derelict and totally unrestored which is a great shame for such an amazing building that stands on the edge of a big city.
"One of its unique features is that parts of the house date back to the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries."
Most of the costs for consultancy works will be met by English Heritage (£155,760) and the shortfall met by the city council (£90,240).
The works include detailed surveys of the mansion, ecological and environmental studies and assessments, an options appraisal, business plan and conservation management plan.
Specialist firms had to submit tenders for the work and a London-based firm, Purcell Miller Tritton has been appointed following the council's two-stage commissioning process.
Purcell has been involved in bringing back to life some of Britain's best-loved buildings, including restoration work at Arnos Vale Cemetery.
The firm recently won an award for 20 years of work at St Paul's Cathedral which extended to nearly every part of Wren's architectural masterpiece.
For over six decades Purcell has been involved in evolving some of the best loved buildings and places in the UK and abroad.
It provides what it describes as a "start-to-finish service that integrates funding and planning advice, heritage consultancy, conservation and architectural services across eight sectors" with the "ambition is to create inspiring and enduring architecture".
The firm also undertook the final phase of a ten-year restoration programme on Kew Palace which was George III's private retreat in Kew Gardens and originally served as a home to George II's daughters and school for the future king.
The former music room in the south-east wing of the mansion is used for wedding receptions and parts of the ground floor are used as council offices but two-thirds of the building remain derelict.