Minister Provides Update On Wantley House

June 18, 2021 | 5 Comments

While they realise that “this is an extremely sensitive subject ,” the Government plans to pursue the process to demolish Wantley House, Minister of Public Works Lt/Col David Burch said, explaining that it would cost over $1 million to bring the building to code and the “economic climate does not allow for the funding of such projects when there are a multitude of critical initiatives that go unfunded.”

Speaking in the House of Assembly today [June 18], the Minister said, “I wish to provide an update on the property – Wantley – located at 20 Princess Street in the City of Hamilton.

“The property was purchased by the Bermuda Housing Corporation in March 2008 with a view to developing the site. In the intervening years funding was curtailed and the building was shuttered and boarded up.

“Following the most recent fire in December 2020, a structural appraisal was carried out,” the Minister said.  “The estimated cost to bring the building up to code was $1.2-$1.3 million. The report further stated that it would be more cost-effective to demolish the structure and rebuild than carry out these costly renovations.

“While the building’s history was very much considered, in light of this information and the fact that the property was a health and safety issue for area residents and the adjacent Diabetes Association building, the Bermuda Housing Corporation took the tough decision to demolish the structure.

“We note the new interest in saving the building following a lengthy period of silence in relation to the future of Wantley – we also note that none of the entities have any funding to support a renovation. Regrettably, as is the case with many old and vacant buildings – the cost of renovation is such that one could never get a return on their investment.

“It really is impractical for those who have a keen interest in retaining ‘historical’ buildings to watch them deteriorate to a beyond salvage state – then raise objections to their demolition and simply expect the Government to fund their rehabilitation. The current economic climate does not allow for the funding of such projects when there are a multitude of critical initiatives that go unfunded year after year.

“While we realise that this is an extremely sensitive subject – in this economic climate – it cannot be considered and we shall pursue the Planning process to achieve its demolition and thus remove the danger that the building provides to those who illegally enter the site.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Good Morning Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to provide an update on the property – Wantley – located at 20 Princess Street in the City of Hamilton.

The property was purchased by the Bermuda Housing Corporation in March 2008 with a view to developing the site. In the intervening years funding was curtailed and the building was shuttered and boarded up.

Mr. Speaker, members of the public will be aware that the property has been dormant for many years with little interest in utilising it. Over the ensuing years, vagrants began to take over the property for illicit use resulting in further damage and fires regularly erupting inside the building. Despite the Bermuda Housing Corporation frequently boarding up all the entryways to prevent illegal access and use of the building, the problem persisted.

Mr. Speaker, we have had 3 approaches over the years, nothing from 2008 to 2016 when the Bermuda National Trust who wanted it donated to them but expressed that it probably made more financial sense to demolish and rebuild, a private citizen in 2020 expressed interest for a business hub and in early 2020 the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation was working to repurpose the building and make it into their headquarters. However, following the most recent fire in December 2020, a structural appraisal was carried out.

This report recommended a complete overhaul of the building, including installing new plumbing and electrical, structural repairs, costly restoration work, and finishes to the interior and exterior of the building. The estimated cost to bring the building up to code was $1.2-$1.3 million. The report further stated that it would be more cost-effective to demolish the structure and rebuild than carry out these costly renovations.

Mr. Speaker, while the building’s history was very much considered, in light of this information and the fact that the property was a health and safety issue for area residents and the adjacent Diabetes Association building, the Bermuda Housing Corporation took the tough decision to demolish the structure.

Following confirmation that the building was not listed as a Historic Building, an application for a demolition permit was made in April 2021 and approved in May. Surprisingly, at no stage during the Planning Application process of advertising for objections did anyone comment – most notably during the 2 week period when the application was advertised. With a demolition permit in hand, the Bermuda Housing Corporation tendered the demolition work, which began earlier last week.

Mr. Speaker, recently, however, following the chorus of objections – the Department of Planning contacted the Bermuda Housing Corporation to inform that, albeit the building is not Listed, its location in a Historic Protection Area and therefore, requires planning permission to demolish. Since the stop work has been issued – work has ceased temporarily.

As it stands now, the Bermuda Housing Corporation have resubmitted a planning application to seek approval to demolish the building under the Historic Protection Area protocols to the Department of Planning for consideration.

Mr. Speaker, we note the new interest in saving the building following a lengthy period of silence in relation to the future of Wantley – we also note that none of the entities have any funding to support a renovation. Regrettably, as is the case with many old and vacant buildings – the cost of renovation is such that one could never get a return on their investment. Additionally, in our view, it makes no economic sense to simply renovate a building that sits on a quarter of the property when planning for better use of the site makes more sense. Whatever is finally built at this site will recognise the historical nature of Wantley.

Mr. Speaker, I visited the site this week and in speaking with the contractor – who has been retained to continue clearing out the building and removing overgrown foliage – he noted that more than 20 truckloads of debris had been removed thus far from inside the house. The contractor has been requested to salvage as much of the crown moulding and other items of historical value for safe keeping. He noted that some of the vagrants are still returning for shelter each night, especially since the building is now wide open. The state of the building is such that the estimate for repairs – as is the case with any renovation – is likely to be higher than the current estimate.

Mr. Speaker, it really is impractical for those who have a keen interest in retaining “historical” buildings to watch them deteriorate to a beyond salvage state – then raise objections to their demolition and simply expect the Government to fund their rehabilitation. The current economic climate does not allow for the funding of such projects when there are a multitude of critical initiatives that go unfunded year after year.

While we realise that this is an extremely sensitive subject – in this economic climate – it cannot be considered and we shall pursue the Planning process to achieve its demolition and thus remove the danger that the building provides to those who illegally enter the site

Thank You, Mr. Speaker.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Bill says:

    Just like Albert and Victoia row this building has been negleted by gov and now its easier for them to demolish. Seems like the norm now is to mismanage maintenance then wipe away the historical building once its to far gone. Wonder how much its going to cost to rebuild or will it be just let to overgrow. Government needs to sell off its vast number of properties and let other people invest their money to take care of them.

  2. Joe Bloggs says:

    “While we realise that this is an extremely sensitive subject – in this economic climate – it cannot be considered and we shall pursue the Planning process to achieve its demolition and thus remove the danger that the building provides to those who illegally enter the site.”

    Not a word about why successive PLP Governments have failed to provide funding for the development of Wantley House since 2008.

  3. Triangle Drifter says:

    The Minister is dead right on the situation of the building though he has danced around abit on how financially the building is where it is.

    The facts are that This Government has blown away millions with little or nothing to show. The fish plant is only the latest in a long list money spent on non starting projects.

    All of the groups wanting to save the building need to work together to save the building & manage it’s future. Don’t expect the taxpayers to do it for them.

  4. Eyes says:

    OK Then, Bright Eyes, what about salvaging some of the original remaining cosmetic decorations on the Balcony or elsewhere at the house. Use them after reconditioning them, for inclusion into a new building to be put their. Is it really that hard or that simple that we can’t reach a happy medium? THIS is HERITAGE! THIS is CULTURE!
    This Government can’t change a lightbulb without goofing up!
    You Politicians have let us down so many times these last few years, you make taxpayers hate on you.

  5. Birdlegs says:

    Unfortunately the norm for the current government is to never budget to maintain anything. Albert Row, Sandys 360, this building. Don’t maintain history, knock it down, overspend on building new. Sad.

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