A CONTROVERSIAL bid for a Christian retreat centre with spectacular views in Gower to be given residential use has been turned down by Swansea Council.
Nicholaston House, which has been marketed at £2.5 million, overlooks Oxwich Bay and has been owned by Swansea City Mission and Educational Trust since 1998. Set in an acre of grounds, it has 13 en suite bedrooms, four flats and a coffee shop.
Numerous people have stayed there over the years to seek spiritual and physical solace from various difficulties. It also hosted conferences and groups running activities such as painting and quilting.
The mission added an extra wing to Nicholaston House, which dates from the 1880s, and then had plans to modernise the building and add extra accommodation. But it was closed in November 2022 due to mounting energy and upkeep costs. Nearly £70,000 had been raised from well-wishers towards refurbishment costs but trustees felt it just wasn’t sufficient for the scale of works envisaged.
The building was put up for sale in June last year at £2.5 million but no formal offers were received. Five months later the mission applied to the council to change the use of the building from a place of worship and institution to residential in the hope this would make it more appealing to potential buyers.
Chairman of trustees Geoff Thomas said the subsidised retreat had become uneconomic, and that proceeds from a sale would allow it to invest in or collaborate with Christian groups in Swansea working with homeless people. He said “It was not an easy decision to close.”
He said he found the planning department’s refusal “perplexing” as, in his view, trustees had substantiated their case that the building had become unviable. Mr Thomas said he and his colleagues were considering what to do next. In the meantime, he said, there were maintenance and insurance costs to keep on top of. “We don’t want to have a derelict building,” he said.
Mr Thomas said the mission bought the building in 1998 for around £260,000 to £270,000. “It was loosely a hotel – weddings took place there, and it had accommodation and a bar,” he said. “It was quite derelict. But the views are stunning.”
The mission’s change of use application led to 62 objections from people who felt the retreat centre, if turned into a house or houses, would be a great loss to Swansea and further afield.
One objector said: “I can personally testify to the very wide cross-section of society that found help there. It ranged across all ages, all social classes and all educational levels. At one end of the spectrum, we had burnt-out, exhausted or confused professionals. At another end, we had a small number of clinically disturbed people and the place was for many years, before our time, known as a centre of excellence for the treatment of severe eating disorders. The huge majority however were ordinary citizens, just going through a tough time.”
Council planning officers said the retreat centre was a community building of local value and that as such the application had to meet certain criteria, such as alternative facility being provided and an appropriate period of marketing. Officers said the criteria had not been met, noting that the £2.5 million asking price had not been lowered despite the lack of interest.
Trustee chairman Mr Thomas said the asking price would be reduced but added that the mission, as a charity, had a duty to ensure it gained what it could from any sale. Asked if the mission may appeal the decision, he said: “We are considering our next steps.”