Prince's Regeneration Trust Report

The following is the Executive Summary of the Options Appraisal conducted by the Prince's Regeneration Trust into potential options for the future use of Shambellie House

1. Executive summary

The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT) was commissioned by Dumfries & Galloway Council (D&GC), in conjunction with Scottish Government and National Museums Scotland (NMS), to identify and assess potential options for the reuse of Shambellie House, New Abbey, in Dumfries & Galloway. Shambellie House operated as the National Museum of Costume until February 2013, when it was closed due to high operating costs and difficult general financial climate.

The work on this appraisal took place in the period from August 2013 to March 2014.

As part of the project, we have gathered and analysed background information, as well as assessed the condition and significance of Shambellie House and its capacity for change. A workshop with key stakeholders was held in October 2013. The ideas regarding potential new uses for Shambellie gathered at the workshop and through conversations with local people helped develop six options for reuse. These were substantiated by architectural drawings and outline assessments of capital costs. In parallel, we carried out market research into comparable properties and uses from the Dumfries & Galloway area and further afield, spoken to potential operators / end users and completed a financial appraisal of the options. Finally, our team assessed the six options based on 13 criteria and developed recommendations for two preferred options. This report summarises the results of this work.

The client brief for the assessment required options that ‘maximise the building’s potential and contribution to the life of the local community’ including ‘cultural use in the widest sense, for example, educational use, social enterprise, heritage, local community use, etc.’

We have therefore focused mainly on four options that have the potential to deliver benefits to the community and bring about increased visitor numbers and visitor spend to New Abbey and the wider area. However, we have also included the valuation, budget costs and other information related to two options based on returning the building to domestic use and sale on the open market. All options are included in the final assessment matrix in Section 14.1

1.1 Summary of options and the assessment criteria

The four “non-sale” options covered by the assessment are:

  • Option 1a High-end self-catering holiday let with community use in the basement (hereafter referred to as Option 1a (Holiday Let & Community)). 
  • Option 1b High-end self-catering holiday let with two separate apartments (hereafter referred to as Option 1b (Holiday Let - 2 Apartments)). 
  • Option 2a Residential cook school (hereafter referred to as Option 2a (Cook School)). 
  • Option 2b Residential centre for art/craft or field/outdoor activities (hereafter referred to as Option 2b (Art/Outdoor Centre)). The two sale options that are also covered are: 
  • Option 3a Private House (hereafter referred to as Option 3a (Private House)).
  • Option 3b Two Private Houses (hereafter referred to as Option 3b (Two Private Houses)).

The options have been assessed using a number of criteria related to the project brief and key issues that came out of the stakeholder workshop in October 2013 and subsequent research by PRT. These are related to:

  • The likelihood of the options obtaining planning and listed building consents;
  • The impact of the options on the historic features and integrity of Shambellie House and its setting;
  • Capital costs of converting the building to suit proposed new uses;
  • Financial viability / level of surplus the options are likely to achieve in the first seven years of operation;
  • Ability to attract grant funding to cover capital and potentially revenue expenditure;
  • Financial gains for Scottish Government that the different options are likely to achieve in the form of sale or tax receipts;
  • Level of public access under different options;
  • Scope for community participation through community events / use;
  • Cultural and educational activities proposed within different options, to reflect the project brief and the use envisaged by the original owners when they gifted the building to Scottish Government;
  • How closely the proposed new uses fit with D&GC’s tourism strategies, needs and aspirations;
  • Direct employment opportunities offered through proposed uses;
  • Wider economic benefits that the proposed uses are likely to bring about; and
  • Complexity and speed of delivery, level of operator/end user interest and saleability of the property on open market.

1.2 The preferred options

The assessment based on the above criteria resulted in two options scoring significantly higher than the rest – Option 1a (Holiday Let & Community) (the highest) and Option 2b (Art/Outdoor Centre) (second highest). We recommend these two options for further consideration by the client group.

Option 1a (Holiday Let & Community) scores overall highest, due to the multiple social and economic benefits it brings to the area and the potentially straight forward delivery. With a budget cost of £430,000, and an annual surplus reaching £10,000 by Year 7 it is a less financially attractive than other non-sale options. This is mainly due to the increased expenditure associated with the management of the community uses. This could be mitigated by seeking external funding for the community centre manager. Securing a reliable end-user for the basement space would be necessary. We recommend that community uses related to visual arts, craft, landscape natural heritage and horticulture, should be encouraged, to tie in with existing resources and established markets in the area. A well-established existing trust is interested in this option so the realisation of the project could be relatively straight forward.

Option 2b (Art/Outdoor Centre) is an attractive proposition from an economic perspective and because it fits well with the area’s tourism strategy and offer. This option has a high budget cost but is expected to generate an annual surplus of over £46,000 by Year 7 of its operation. It provides ideal scope for creative activity, education and learning and would be highly desirable given Shambellie’s artistic history and the desire for this type of use to continue. Option 2b depends, of course, on securing an end-user with the capital to invest in conversion and confidence in the market for specific types of residential courses. Given Dumfries & Galloway’s demonstrated strengths in environmental art, landscape, craft, sculpture and other visual arts, Shambellie House could be very attractive to such an operator. Similarly, residential courses related to the outdoors, walking, cycling, horticulture, or field study of natural heritage would be equally well-suited in this location.

1.4 Conclusions and recommendations

Shambellie House is a good building of its type, relatively unaltered and in a very attractive setting. The character of the House and the setting should be preserved and both preferred Options in this appraisal would secure this, as well as preservation of the plan and overall character of the House. Through progressing conversations with stakeholders further, there is the opportunity to develop either of the two preferred options to a positive conclusion.

  • In the short-term, we recommend to Scottish Government the following next steps:
  • Liaise with potential end users/operators and investigate suitable asset transfer arrangements in line with the relevant procurement rules;
  • Draw up and carry out a maintenance plan for the House, lodge and grounds;
  • Continue to heat, maintain and keep secure the House and grounds with on-site security presence until acquisition by end-user;
  • Commission a desk-based assessment of the Collection, with assistance from D&GC and Lou Greenshields, to identify key artefacts for retention, interpretation and display at Shambellie;
  • Encourage ‘meanwhile uses’ in partnership with D&GC, to keep the building ‘active’ and in low-level use until works can begin on site;
  • Explore and support the development of related community uses (in conjunction with community / studio space in Option 1a (Holiday Let & Community)) with assistance of D&GC, New Abbey Community Council, the community and other local stakeholders. This could include organising a one-day follow-up event at Shambellie House to identify members of the community interested in forming a charitable trust to take on the basement space;
  • Discuss further with agents for both Shambellie Estate and Shambellie Walled Garden how best to enable development of compatible activity and courses for residential centre;
  • Liaise with D&GC’s Development Planning department on preferred options and necessary consents in due course; and
  • Further investigate the implications on the valuation done by Savills of developing the car park site for residential use and the possibility of establishing an endowment fund based on the proceeds of sale of this site to help run the House and pay for its long-term maintenance.

It is recommended that Scottish Government pursues a disposal strategy based on the transfer of the property to an existing or new trust at no cost as their preferred option. The rationale for pursuing a trust-based solution is:

  1. The property was left to the nation for use as a Museum of Costume. Now that this use is redundant, it is important that at least some of the principles behind the original use are retained, notably: public access, the promotion of arts and culture in Scotland, education, and encouraging visitors to Dumfries and Galloway.
  2. A trust-based solution would guarantee continued public access. This would be highest for the preferred Options 1a (Holiday Let & Community) and 2b (Art/Outdoor Centre).

As part of the conditions of any transfer of the property to a trust, the body should be given sufficient period (5 years) to run the property and try to achieve viability. If, after this pre- agreed period, the trust is unable to run the property at a surplus, it could then be transferred back to Scottish Government to sell on the open market. Sale of the property should therefore only be seen as a fall-back position if preferred options fail.

It is important that the preferred (non-sale) options are given the maximum chance of success, because of the social and economic benefits they could bring to the area. Crucially, they should be supported by the raising of an endowment to cover the on-going long-term maintenance and repair costs, which may not be met through the business.

Finally, it is essential that the consultation and involvement of the local community, initiated through the work on this Options Assessment, should continue. We recommend that an update is circulated on the findings presented in this report with opportunity for feedback and further development.