Historic Rookery House, once the Birmingham home of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, is to be put up for sale by cash-strapped Birmingham City Council – with a pledge that community access will be guaranteed.
The 18th century home in Rookery Park Erdington has gradually fallen into disrepair over many years and this hastened after the city council stopped using it as an office five years ago.
Now council bosses have decided to sell up as the Grade II listed three-storey house requires major investment and currently drains £115,000 a year from council coffers just to keep secure and from falling further into dereliction.
The Labour cabinet has agreed to sell Rookery House as a package with the former Spring Lane depot and Western Road depot behind – which are likely to be snapped up for a housing development. No price has as yet been put on the site.
They have pledged that any sale will include a lease back deal on part of the building to ensure continued community use.
But local Conservative councillors say that does not go far enough and want proceeds from the depot sale ploughed into the full restoration of Rookery House and the entire building left for an agreed community use.
It was built in the late 1720s for industrialist and iron merchant Abraham Spooner. His grand-daughter Barbara married political activist and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce in 1797.
The house, which was extended during the 19th century, was later handed to Erdington district council for use as a town hall and its grounds became a public park. This was taken over by Birmingham City Council which continued to use it until 2008.
Council deputy leader Ian Ward (Lab, Shard End) said: “The building is currently vacant and in need of substantial refurbishment to bring it back into use.”
He said that a ‘lease back arrangement’ would be made with the purchaser to ensure continued community use in part of the building. And added that while it most likely that a residential development will come forward on the depot sites they will not rule out other uses for the land.
As a Grade II listed building Rookery House cannot be demolished and is costly to renovate, therefore is more likely to be sold as a package with the lucrative depot land.
It is thought that as the house and park was gifted to the people of Erdington that some form of community access has to be guaranteed in any sale.
Erdington councillor Robert Alden (Cons) has called for the depot land to be sold for development of larger private family homes to maximise the income and ensure there is money to invest in Rookery House – which could then be set entirely aside for the community.
He said: “It is a building which has lacked maintenance for 40 years now and a prime example of what happens to our heritage when the council just ceases carrying out regular maintenance. We have lost enough of our heritage, we would not want to see any more lost.”
Coun Alden said that locals suggested the depot land could be used for a retirement village with the house linked for activities and available for community groups.
But if not wanted the depots sold for private housing only to maximise income from a premier site ‘overlooking a park and listed building’.
He said: “This will ensure sufficient money is raised to restore the house to its former glory.”
But he was attacked by Labour cabinet member Stewart Stacey (Acocks Green) who suggested it was against the spirit of Wilberforce to use the land for premium housing only.
“What Coun Alden is in effect saying this is too good a location for people in social rented housing.”