Empty and unsold: now mansion could lose protection

After five years of standing empty, one of the most spectacularly sited houses on St Helena could see its historic rating downgrounded.

St Helena Government was criticised for allowing Wranghams, an imposing house in Sandy Bay, to become a “wasting asset”. It was also severely rebuked for maintenance failures.

A 2011 audit of government property urged that it be sold as a matter of urgency.

On Tuesday 27 August 2013, executive councillors will discuss a proposal to reduce its listing from grade two to grade three.

Approval would ease restrictions on works to the building – making it easier to re-use, but taking away some of its conservation protection.

No details have been released in advance, but the background should become clear when the meeting takes place.

The meeting is the first since the 2013 election to be held entirely in public, following a year-long campaign for open government.

Wranghams, which stands in a prominent position off Diana’s Peak Ring Road, was one of five empty government buildings highlighted in an audit report in February 2011.

It has three rooms on the ground floor and another four upstairs, as well as a garage.

It was formerly used as accommodation for government officials, but has stood empty since April 2007.

In October 2007 it was offered to island-based investors and overseas Saints as a potential tourism project.

The island’s 2012-2016 tourist strategy said the house could be converted to a boutique hotel, with extra accommodation in its three-acre grounds.

The audit report said Wranghams was “a wasting asset”, and said the government should be “severely criticised” for keeping it, instead of selling it to raise income and escape maintenance costs.

In June 2010 the executive council ruled it should be sold, but no decision was made on how it should be disposed of and the sale was never seen through.

The 2011 report said: “As yet Wranghams has still to be disposed of and continues to deteriorate.

“Urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that the asset is released.”

It is not clear what action has been taken since.

The Crown Estates, which looks after government property, was criticised in the same report for having no action plan to maintain or dispose of empty properties.

It said there was no evidence that buildings were being inspected.

The other properties detailed in the report were the redundant first schools at Longwood and Half Tree Hollow, The Haven – a former old people’s home in Upper Jamestown – and the former PWD (public works) store in Jamestown.

The ExCo meeting on the downgrading of Wranghams is starts at 9.30am on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 in the council chamber, off the Castle courtyard.

Other agenda items include qualifications for doctors, the Commissioner of Oaths Amendment Bill, and the Welfare of Children Amendment Ordinance, 2013.

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