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Probe into blaze at former Denbigh asylum suggested for conversion to homes and hotels

Words: Roger Milne
Former North Wales Hospital in Denbigh / Shutterstock_1009104397

North Wales Police, North Wales Fire Rescue Service and Denbighshire County Council have launched a joint investigation following a massive blaze at a listed former Victorian asylum at Denbigh, which is at the centre of competing redevelopment proposals.

Earlier this week multi-millionaire businessman and hotelier Lawrence Kenwright signalled that he was prepared to invest £100 million to restore the abandoned grade II complex and turn it into two luxury hotels, as well as new homes,

The Prince’s Regeneration Trust has already obtained planning permission to convert, restore and part-demolish the main range of buildings for flats and allow a mixed-use scheme in the grounds, including up to 200 residential and business units.

The complex is owned by an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands. In 2013, Denbighshire County Council, the planning authority, voted to compulsorily purchase the former asylum after the owner, Freemont (Denbigh) Limited, failed to comply with a repairs notice that required it to carry out significant repairs to the buildings on site.

Two years later the Welsh Government confirmed that the CPO requires the current owner to sell the building to the county council, which would in turn transfer ownership of the site to the North Wales Building Preservation Trust – a not-for-profit registered charity.

In March 2016, an application by the site owner to overturn the CPO was refused by the High Court, while in May 2016, the site was put up for auction by the current owner but not sold.

The planning authority said: “Trying to save the important listed buildings and the site has been a long and complicated issue. Our main concern has always been to preserve the main range historic buildings on the site. The works that we have already undertaken, including the securing of the CPO, have been the most complex ever undertaken on a listed building in Wales.”

Hugh Evans, leader of the county council, said this week: “We are truly saddened to hear about the fire on Wednesday and the fact it was started deliberately beggars belief.

“The council has been progressing with a CPO process to obtain the land. That process is lengthy and not yet complete. This means that the site continues to be owned by an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands and issues around the site’s safety are the responsibility of the landowner.

“However, the council would like to reassure residents and those interested in the future of the site that it is fully committed to continuing with the completion of the CPO process, to protect this historic site for future generations.”

In a further statement the county council told The Planner: “We are currently going through due process to ensure the best option for the site.

“No decision has been made and due to the commercially sensitive nature of the proposals, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.

"However, the council has invested a significant amount of time, money and energy into bringing this now-derelict property back into public ownership, so that the site can be redeveloped and that commitment remains as strong as ever. We hope to be in a position to reach a decision in the near future.”

Image credit | Shutterstock