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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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£10m business centre plan for historic Cumbrian hall

An ambitious developer wants to create a £10 million business centre in the ruins of Workington’s Curwen Hall.

Curwen Hall photo
Curwen Hall in Workington

The project would see offices built inside the neglected Grade I listed building but would leave the original fabric of the hall “mainly untouched”.

The proposals also include a cafe area suitable for “reasonably large functions”, and a tented courtyard for concerts and theatre productions.

The idea has been put forward by 56-year-old Andrew Doyle, the chief executive of The Land Group.

Mr Doyle, who attended Workington Grammar School, remembers the hall as a boy and even courted his future wife in its grounds.

Saddened by its decline, he said that a development like this could help regenerate the hall and the area.

“It would also provide a centre people can be proud of and give some civic pride back to the town,” he said.

He insisted the project would be sympathetic but added that it would be impossible to develop the hall without some alterations.

Under the plans, the hall would function initially as a business centre for “growing companies and technologies”.

But Mr Doyle said it could also be used as a mayor’s parlour and an educational centre.

He said: “We have worked with some architects to suggest ways forward for the hall. We want to leave the existing structure mainly untouched and build a new structure to protect the old.

“Ideally we want to make it a centre of excellence for the west Cumbria area.”

Mr Doyle also wants to build up to 30 houses towards the Stainburn end of the parklands, using the weir and the mill channel for power generation.

Under the plans a quarter of the housing would be executive homes to “attract good business people to the area” while the rest would be affordable and mid-priced accommodation.

The proposals had been submitted to Allerdale Council in 2008 but died after the town was devastated by floods the following year.

Mr Doyle has now resurrected them and has held meetings with Helen Fowler of the Workington Heritage Group which is campaigning to reopen the hall.

She said: “The group would be happy to facilitate the meeting with Allerdale Council and listen to any proposals he cares to bring to the table. All interest from any groups would be welcomed.”

Mr Doyle has stressed that the idea is still in “embryonic” stage and would require financial support from partners but said it was viable if the public and private sector worked together.

He wants the Helena Thompson Museum, the Civic Trust and Allerdale council to be involved.

The Workington Heritage Group hopes to have the hall open to the public in time for Christmas next year.

The hall fell into disrepair in the 1970s and has been out of bounds to the public for nearly a decade amid safety fears and has recently been added to the English Heritage at risk register.

The hall’s neglect was described as “criminal” by members of the Curwen family.

They gave their ancestral home to Workington council shortly after World War Two on condition that it became the town hall.

But it suffered from chronic neglect since the 1940s when it was given to Workington Borough Council.

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