A company’s plans to redevelop a historic building on Douglas’s North Quay have sparked controversy.
Kelproperties Ltd applied for planning permission for a development called ‘Merchant’s Place’, which would involve the demolition of six buildings including the former Newson’s shop – a registered, eighteenth century warehouse.
Company representative Michael Josem, frustrated by the slow progress of the planning applications, has launched an online petition called ‘Save Douglas Quay’ for the public to sign and show their support for ‘an upgrade and investment in dilapidated brownfield sites’.
Merchant’s Place would consist of restaurants, flats, and a cafe.
The plans would involve the demolition of registered buildings number 27 and 28 North Quay, which Kelproperties describes as the ‘primary reason’ for opposition to the plans, and which it justifies by saying that ‘there is little substance in the reasons for listing other than the buildings were constructed around 1786 and they are warehouses’.
Last year the owner applied for a demolition order for the Newson’s building, citing an immediate risk of collapse – but a structural engineer who specialised in conservation disagreed with the need for this.
Kelproperties states that the only building within the group between numbers 22-28 which is ‘worthy of retention’ is 24 North Quay, with ‘[the fact that] the buildings are 230 years old, that is not in itself grounds for registration’.
The £8 million project is supported by the government and Douglas Council, but opposed by conservation groups such as Manx National Heritage, the Building Conservation Forum and Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society.
The company goes on to argue that its development would reeinforce the area’s reputation as a social spot and ‘make the North Quay a destination in itself’.
‘Upper floor apartments all have wonderful views over Douglas Marina ensuring that they will always be desirable – and consequently always occupied,’ the petition adds.
Infrastructure Minister, and chair of the Housing and Communities Board, Chris Thomas MHK said that the situation had highlighted the trade-off between preserving heritage and regenerating brownfield sites – acknowledging that while the flats in the proposed development are needed, that registration as a legal process must be respected.