An historic Cornish school which closed under a cloud six years ago could become the site of more than 100 homes, a restaurant and a specialist dementia care home if plans are approved by Cornwall Council next week.
Polwithen House in Penzance is the site of a proposal to convert the former Bolitho School into 19 apartments with a café / restaurant, fitness studio, three community rooms and ancillary spaces. The development would also see the construction of a new apartment block providing 56 new open market homes, 58-bed extra care apartments and guest accommodation, a 47-bedroom dementia care home with an end of life suite and a hydrotherapy pool for the local community.
The building dates back to the late 19th century and latterly housed the private £7,000 a year Bolitho School, which shut for good in 2017 after suffering financial difficulties. It closed just over a year after previous owners promised its sale would secure its future for at least five years. The school passed between three owners in twice as many years.
The school’s former owner David Ellsmore, director of Cornwallis Care Services, is the applicant for the new development, which has been designed by Poynton Bradbury Wynter Cole architects.
The plans were recommended for approval by Cornwall Council officers, but were called in at the request of local councillor Jim McKenna due to the “local significance” of the proposed development and a lack of affordable housing provision. The matter will now be discussed by the council’s west sub-area planning committee on Monday, December 11.
In a report to the committee, case officer Adam Carlyon said: “This is a complex and locally significant development for this part of Penzance. However, it is evident from the submissions that the approach has been carefully, patiently and methodically considered, including by way of a pre-application consultation, referrals to the Design Review Panel (DRP) and consultation with the local community.
“Whilst some elements of the DRP feedback have not been reflected in the final submissions, the justification for this is considered to be acceptable and the proposal is, otherwise, considered to deliver a high-quality, multi-generational community, including much-needed specialist housing and facilities.
“The lack of affordable housing provision is disappointing. However, this has been robustly assessed, on behalf of both the applicant and Cornwall Council, and it is clear that this development would simply not be viable if such a contribution was secured. Accordingly, the council’s affordable housing team has raised no objection.”
If approved, the affordable housing team would like to see a financial contribution to affordable housing in the area. Penzance Town Council raised no objection but has asked for an affordable housing contribution of at least 30% on the site.
A number of local residents have commented on the council’s online planning register, many of whom have concerns about increased traffic in the area as well as other issues. Tim Dwelly has also written as the Cornwall councillor for neighbouring Penzance East ward.
He said: “I am strongly objecting to this application on the grounds that it delivers no affordable housing whatsoever. This despite the 56 open market dwellings included on the site – well over the trigger of ten which should deliver around 30% affordable in our local policy. The extra care units will be available to anyone not just local people. These units, though welcome, should not come at the expense of the desperate need for affordable homes in the area with the highest housing need in Cornwall. This looks to me like an attempt to avoid this requirement.”
Polwithen House is the former grand residence of William Bolitho, who built the house in 1869/70. The house and grounds were reopened as the Riviera Palace Hotel in 1906 until it returned into the ownership of the Bolitho family in 1917, who bequeathed it to the Church of England High School for Girls.
It later became the School of St Clare in 1928. In 1937 the school was chosen by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, to educate his grand-daughter Princess Aida Desta. One of its famous former pupils was the prolific Cornish author Rosamund Pilcher. Her book Coming Home depicts life at the school. It was renamed the Bolitho School in 1995 after becoming co-educational.