The pandemic – and an already obvious shift in shopping habits – is changing the commercial face of Bath.
As retail shrinks, people continue to work from home and ‘start-ups’ look for new modern open plan office accommodation the city is going to need to find new uses for a growing number of vacant spaces.
A planning application from one of Bath’s best loved boutique independents – the Abbey Hotel on North Parade – is a really good example of how some of this redundant square-footage could find a new life.
The owners want planning permission – and listed building consent – for a change of use at numbers 4 and 5 North Parade from retail and offices to a hotel.
Getting a green light would give them the go ahead to develop an additional 15 bedroom suites within two Grade 11* listed buildings dating from the 1740’s and designed as part of a terrace of lodging houses by John Wood the Elder. It formed part of the new Georgian city growing outside the original medieval walls.
Over the years the buildings have housed residential tenants, lower grade offices and an assortment of retail activities – from dressmaking to a bank and butchers. Ground floor shopfronts that have now long gone.
A change of use from shops to offices meant the buildings have been re-fronted – with internal alterations taking place too. They both sustained a degree of bomb damage during the war with more repairs to the original structure.
A detailed heritage report – presented as part of the planning application – says there are still many original features that would be retained and even enhanced.
“The change of use from offices back to residential means that the spaces can be reused as originally intended, with rooms returning to bedrooms and the architecture of the rooms being respected rather than acting as a hindrance as is currently the case with densely populated office spaces.”
Furthermore, it states:
‘The Bath Office Market is currently a small but was a healthy market (pre-covid-19) with a strong recent take up by the tech and media sectors, due to the presence of the two universities, with one of the highest start-up rates in the country. Demand is strong for Grade A high quality open plan offices with modern services and facilities.’
The hotel has worked closely with the Council’s Conservation Officer on putting together a sensitive and viable application. It’s a very detailed proposal but – in conclusion – it says:
‘The change of use from offices back to residential means that the spaces can be reused as originally intended, with rooms returning to bedrooms and the architecture of the rooms being respected rather than acting as a hindrance as is currently the case with densely populated office spaces.’
The most obvious question – which l put to General Manager Josh Watts – is why is a hotel looking to expand at a time when the international tourist trade – and tourism in general – has been decimated by the Covid 19 virus?
He told me this was an investment for the future and not something that was going to happen this year.
In time, it would offer new employment opportunities as part of a new viable re-purposed hotel which could offer guests the authentic experience of Georgian town houses in central Bath.
I wish them luck and see this as an example of the many ways in which the city will have to re-think and re-purpose many of its historic buildings.