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North Quay: Registered building project sparks debate on heritage and development

Image: Scaffolding outside the current site on North Quay - the building was added to the Protected Buildings Register in 2018

Company looking to redevelop 18th century warehouse

The planned development of a registered building on North Quay in Douglas has reignited a conversation about preserving the Island's heritage and regenerating unused sites.

Kelproperties wants to incorporate the Newson's Building - which was first built as a warehouse in 1786 and has had a number of purposes over the years - into a new mixed-use venture called 'Merchant's Place'.

Being centuries old, and made of Manx stone, plans to transform six units - from 22-28 North Quay - into a set of apartments and a restaurant and cafe have taken several months to go through the planning approval process.

In November 2021 the owner proposed to demolish the building on the basis of a structural report stating the building was in 'imminent state of collapse', however a Conservation Accredited Structural Engineer disagreed with the findings.

In February a planning application and registered building consent application for the demolition of the building and redevelopment of the site were submitted and are awaiting determination.

'It dissuades other potential investors who want to fix dilapidated brownfield sites up.'

Unhappy with the pace of the application process Kelproperties published a petition on its website under the title 'Save Douglas Quay'.

Michael Josem, of the Manx Taxpayers' Alliance (situated in Merchants House on 24 North Quay) spoke to Manx Radio as a representative of Kelproperties:

It's estimated the project would mark an investment of around £8 million - the Department for Enterprise and Douglas Borough Council have both supported the scheme.

Meanwhile, objections to the applications have been made by Manx National Heritage, Building Conservation Forum and Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, amongst others.

An artist's impression of 'Merchant's Place'.

'There are flats in there, and we need housing, but registration is an important concept and we need to respect what's unique and special.'

Infrastructure Minister, and Chair of the Housing and Communities Board, Chris Thomas says it's opened a conversation about preserving historical buildings and meeting the Island's housing demand - citing other developments such as the Marine Biological Centre in Port Erin:

The Planning Committee says a repairs notice was served for the building on 21 November 2021, as it felt 'reasonable steps' were not being taken to properly preserve the registered building.

An appeal against that repairs notice was made on 14 December 2021 and a court hearing to determine the outcome of that appeal is scheduled for November 2022.

Ross Brazier is the Principal Registered Buildings Officer for the planning committee, and has been telling Lewis Foster about the history of the buildings:

You can view the planning application, reference 22/00149/GB, via the online services portal.

Image Credit - iMuseum: The site of the building on North Quay and the Saddle Inn Hotel.

A statement from the Registered Planning Officer (Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture) says: 'The former Newson’s Warehouse, no 27-28 North Quay is a registered building dating back to the late 18th century when the quay was developed from lands in the ownership of the Nunnery estate.'

'The building is made up of originally two buildings No 27 and No 28. Together they are important survivors illustrating the development of Douglas’ quayside and emerging industry of trade.

'No 27 was constructed as a warehouse and has been used for that purpose for most of its life and remains mostly unaltered. 

'No 28 would appear to have been constructed possibly as a house put quickly to use as a public house up until 1913 after which time it was used by a chandler prior to being used as part of the Newson’s shop. 

'The buildings are good examples of the Island’s vernacular urban quayside architecture particularly in an area that was cleared in the late 19th century then again in the 1930’s.

'The buildings now represent the only surviving warehouse and the oldest buildings on the entire quay, they are unique and a surviving remnant of older Douglas that predates the City’s 19th Century tourism boom expansion and extensive clearing and re-development of the 1930’s.'

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