Historic former hospital could have new lease of life

A historic former hospital could be brought back to life as an ‘intergenerational community’ boasting a new care facility and dozens of affordable homes.

New plans for the Grade II-listed St Thomas’ site, in Stockport, would see the creation of 67 apartments and town houses alongside a state-of-the-art care home dubbed ‘The Academy of Living Well’.

The Shaw Heath complex – which dates back to the 1840s – adjoins Stockport College and the Flint Street housing development.

Despite an external restoration of the main building ten years ago, the site has been vacant since 2004. It has been blighted by theft and vandalism and is in a poor condition.

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However, the ‘flagship’ scheme looks set to follow Weir Mill as the next major development in the transformation of the ‘Town Centre West’

Members of the council’s communities and housing scrutiny committee have indicated their support for progressing the project to the ‘detailed design’ stage – which involves working up proposals for planning permission and listed building consent.

Coun Sheila Bailey, cabinet member for Sustainable Stockport, told a committee meeting the St Thomas project was ‘a hugely exciting and innovative development’.

She added: “Anyone who knows the site knows what an eyesore it is and has been for some time.

“This development will transform the area and bring huge environmental improvement to this part of Stockport.”

Based in the ‘Royal George Quarter’ of Town Centre West, the flagship scheme aims to ‘set the bar’ for future developments in the Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC) regeneration zone.

The three listed buildings on the site would be restored to provide one and two-bed apartments and two further buildings will house an additional 19 flats, while 13 new-build town houses complete the residential side of the scheme.

The homes will be designed to the Passivhaus gold standard of energy efficient design.

The Academy of Living Well would be a 70 bed intermediate care and dementia facility, replacing and improving on services currently provided elsewhere in the borough, as well as providing additional dementia care capacity.

It will operate an innovative ‘household model’ where residents benefit from modern bedrooms with en-suite facilities leading directly onto an open plan, shared communal space.

The academy will also provide a real life environment for the training and development of Stockport’s health and social care workers.

Council papers claim the ‘pioneering intergenerational approach’ will reduce social isolation and increase independence for older people, while providing learning opportunities for young people and fostering their sense of social responsibility.

Speaking at the committee meeting, Coun Janet Mobbs said it was an ‘exciting project’ but sounded a note of caution.

She said: “Right now that’s a wonderfully glossy brochure, but I’m not sure what it’s trying to sell me. It’s not trying to sell me anything that my mum would have wanted to live in.

“I think we need to get that balance right between ambitious projects, attractive projects and projects that are attractive and will meet the needs of people that will live there, not someone looking at a brochure somewhere else in the country.”

Coun Charles Gibson also made a ‘plea for extra ambition’ in terms of the new homes green credentials.

He said: “This could be the beacon of the standard of housing we want to see in Stockport and looks like a fantastic opportunity.

“I hope we will be as ambitious as possible in making them as sustainable as real renewable energy – ground heating, solar panels on the roof, to make sure the standard is as high as possible.”

Coun Dickie Davies, however, was less equivocal in his support.

Noting that St Thomas was originally a workhouse before becoming a hospital, he said: “It’s had a useful function all its life and it looks like it’s going to continue to do so. I welcome the development of both the housing and the restoration of building and welcome this project wholeheartedly.”

The cost of moving the project on to the detailed design phase is in the region on £715,000.

Stockport Homes, who would manage the affordable housing stock, would pay £345,000 for this element of the scheme, while the council would foot the £370,000 bill for the Academy of Living Well and highways design.

Progression of the scheme to the next stage is also expected to be backed by the economy and regeneration committee when it meets tonight (Thursday).

|Ma Evening Post