Homes worth fight­ing for

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - New Homes -

The Min­istry of De­fence is sell­ing 91 mil­i­tary sites, which the Gov­ern­ment says will cre­ate 55,000 houses and flats, says Gra­ham Nor­wood

If there’s ever a sil­ver lin­ing to a pub­lic spend­ing cut, it could be in this week’s news that the Min­istry of De­fence is sell­ing off a fur­ther 56 sites. Good news, be­cause one man’s re­dun­dant mil­i­tary build­ing is, lit­er­ally, an­other man’s home: the MoD says the to­tal of 91 off­loaded sites will cre­ate 55,000 houses and flats.

Turn­ing no-longer-use­ful pub­lic build­ings into homes is not a new trend. MoD sell-offs in re­cent years have co­in­cided with a new wave of re­spect for our Armed Forces, in­flu­enced by US at­ti­tudes and the launch by Prince Harry of the In­vic­tus Games. The re­sult is that the qual­ity of the homes carved from old mil­i­tary prop­er­ties is of­ten spec­tac­u­larly high.

“There’s an emo­tional at­tach­ment to a mil­i­tary build­ing – it’s a civic pride you don’t get with an of­fice block,” says An­drew Bul­li­vant of estate agency Atwell Martin.

“Homes made from a naval dock­yard, for ex­am­ple, must have a nod to the past and be treated sym­pa­thet­i­cally.”

He should know: Bul­li­vant has been a cen­tral fig­ure in the de­vel­op­ment and sale of al­most 1,000 homes on ex-MoD sites in Ply­mouth over the past decade. The high­est pro­file scheme by far is Royal Wil­liam Yard, a com­plex of hand­some wa­ter­side build­ings built in the early 19th cen­tury as a vict­ualling cen­tre to pre­pare food and rum for sailors.

The build­ings’ trans­for­ma­tion by quirky de­vel­oper Ur­ban Splash into 200 high-end flats – the last one sold 18 months ago – has been so well­re­garded that the pro­ject was named De­vel­op­ment of the Decade by in­dus­try jour­nal Prop­erty Week.

Visit the scheme and you’ll see why. The homes are strik­ingly mod­ern and com­fort­able in­side while re­tain­ing thick stone walls, cast-iron pil­lars, ships’ tim­ber beams, arched win­dows and can­tilevered stair­cases – a blend of naval history and con­tem­po­rary style that sums up the ap­peal of mil­i­tary build­ings.

There is more to come in this mar­itime city, too. Bul­li­vant is sell­ing apart­ments at Mill­fields, a newly con­verted ex-naval hos­pi­tal that treated the wounded from Trafal­gar to the Falk­lands (£550,000 for a large three-bed­room flat, atwell­martin.co.uk). A nearby marines bar­racks is to be con­verted soon.

“Mil­i­tary build­ings have unique his­to­ries but also un­usual shapes and sizes, mak­ing them more distinc­tive than con­verted schools, of­fices or ware­houses,” says James Mor­ri­son, a buy­ing agent in Portsmouth and Southamp­ton, other cities with ex-MoD build­ings aplenty.

A case in point is the eight-bed­room home cre­ated from Fort Re­doubt, a one-time de­fence base on the Isle of Wight, for sale for £3 mil­lion (bile­sandco.co. uk). It comes with a onebed­room hol­i­day cot­tage and three acres of land, but the stand-out fea­tures are the ac­com­pa­ny­ing moats, ram­parts, tun­nels, bar­racks, gun em­place­ments and he­li­copter land­ing pad.

Also in the Solent, close to the Isle of Wight, is Horse Sand Fort, an out­post built in the 1880s to de­fend Portsmouth against the French. The MoD sold it 50 years ago but it is now in poor shape and a con­ver­sion will be a chal­lenge. Aside from be­ing 15 min­utes from land by boat, it has two storeys, an in­ter­nal road, 15ft-thick ar­moured walls and a 200ft-wide deck. Even Sarah Beeny might be hard-pressed to make it hab­it­able if she stumped up the £875,000 guide price (lsh.co.uk).

Not all MoD sites are so un­usual, which may be just as well given that the coun­try’s hous­ing cri­sis needs thou­sands of homes, not just unique fortresses.

Well over 100 RAF bases have closed since the Sec­ond World War. In the For­ties and Fifties, some be­came mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuits – Sil­ver­stone, Thrux­ton and Cas­tle Combe are still tracks to­day – but re­cent clo­sures have in­vari­ably led to sub­stan­tial hous­ing schemes, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the pres­ence of util­i­ties, foun­da­tions and sur­round­ing roads.

RAF Up­per Hey­ford in Ox­ford­shire, which hosted US Air Force air­craft dur­ing the first Gulf War and was closed in 1994, now has plan­ning con­sent for 2,100 homes to be com­pleted by 2031. There are also plans for 1,300 new homes on the for­mer RAF Uxbridge site that was shut in 2010 – fa­mous for be­ing the lo­ca­tion where Win­ston Churchill said in 1940 that “never was so much owed by so many to so few”.

The chance to live with a rather more stylish piece of Churchillian mil­i­tary history ex­ists in cen­tral Lon­don’s Trafal­gar Square where Ad­mi­ralty Arch – Sir Win­ston’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence just over a cen­tury ago, when he was First Lord of the Ad­mi­ralty – is be­ing re­de­vel­oped by a Span­ish com­pany. Among the apart­ments be­ing cre­ated is one for sale at £150 mil­lion – be­lieved to be the most ex­pen­sive apart­ment ever put on the mar­ket in Lon­don (ad­mi­ralt­yarch. co.uk).

If your bud­get is not so large – Ad­mi­ralty Arch would in­cur at least £19 mil­lion in stamp duty alone – you can still ben­e­fit from some mil­i­tary history turned into homes. More mod­est MoD sales re­cently an­nounced in­clude Am­port House, a Hamp­shire manor house with gar­dens de­signed by Sir Ed­win Lu­tyens, and RAF Hen­low in Bed­ford­shire, where Sec­ond World War Hawker Hur­ri­canes used to be as­sem­bled.

For those who mourn Bri­tain’s de­clin­ing mil­i­tary might, such dis­pos­als may be sad, but for many thou­sands these will be­come homes fit for, and cer­tainly in­spired by, he­roes.

Safe space: Fort Re­doubt, a for­mer de­fence site on the Isle of Wight, has been turned into an eight-bed­room home, on the mar­ket for £3 mil­lion with Biles & Co

Fix up: Mill­fields, an ex-naval hos­pi­tal, has been turned to flats

Naval gaz­ing: Royal Wil­liam Yard pre­pared sailors’ food

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