Where have all the old public buildings gone – the post offices, banks, churches and pubs – that used to line the High Street and be our local landmarks?

The answer is that, in many places at least, they have been converted into holiday lets.

Holidays in the UK have become the norm since Covid made travelling abroad so difficult,’ says Kate Eales, head of regional residential with Strutt & Parker. 

‘So, instead of renting a cottage in August, many people create their own holiday homes and recover some of the costs by letting.’

Historic: A two-bedroom apartment in the former Royal Navy building, Brewhouse at The Royal William Yard, Plymouth, is £575,000 with Knight Frank

Historic: A two-bedroom apartment in the former Royal Navy building, Brewhouse at The Royal William Yard, Plymouth, is £575,000 with Knight Frank 

There are several advantages to converting an old public building, according to Eales. 

‘You get a lot of property for your money, there is often car parking and you seldom have a garden to maintain — good news if you are letting,’ she says.

 ‘Above all, an old building in a brochure catches the eye. Families love the idea of holidaying somewhere quirky — in, say, a converted lighthouse, a school or a pub.’

You’d be hard pushed to find a more eye-catching holiday property than the four-bedroom, 3,800 sq ft Bath House in St Leonards, East Sussex, for sale for £1.5 million with Fine & Country.

This surreal conversion of the town’s old Turkish Baths is a homage to fairground art and glitz. 

It was created by music agent Solomon Parker who spent three years scouring the South’s antique shops looking for sufficiently gaudy ‘objets’ to match his vision.

The result is a cavernous room with a bowling alley (reputedly once owned by Roman Abramovich) running down the side, flashing signs saying ‘Carnival’ and ‘Dodgems’ and a gigantic clown’s face grinning from the wall.

A mezzanine hangs like a cage from the ceiling while the original tiling from the swimming pool can still be glimpsed. Parker is proud of his creation and defends St Leonards, which has had a bad press for its social problems over the years.

The converted Bath House in St Leonards is on the market with Fine & Country for £1.5million

The converted Bath House in St Leonards is on the market with Fine & Country for £1.5million

‘Since the pandemic a lot of London people have moved to the south coast and that’s been a good thing,’ he says. ‘The town now has a thriving arts scene and some fabulous restaurants.’

Making holiday lets from battered old buildings can make sound financial sense.

Twenty years ago Derek Thomas bought the abandoned chapel in Llanrug, North Wales for £85,000. He converted the building into two homes — Capel Mawr and Basement 19 — at a cost of £300,000.

Having at first lived in one of them himself, he now makes £60,000 a year letting them to holidaymakers who are attracted to the cottages for their proximity to Snowdonia and Anglesey. 

The properties’ value today is £800,000. ‘This place is my masterpiece,’ says Derek, who lets the homes through Sykes Cottages. ‘It’s the culmination of all I have learnt about building over the years.’

It would be wrong to assume that holiday lets only pay off in seaside locations. Other areas can attract visitors all year round. 

In Bath and North Somerset, for example, tourism contributes £470 million to the local economy. Martin Fahie, 65, makes about £12,000 a year from running the former Ebenezer Chapel in Wellow, Somerset as an Airbnb. 

The chapel, which still has many of its original features including the stained glass windows, was first converted in 1990.

‘Bath is a big attraction, both with tourists and parents visiting their children at university,’ says Fahie, a musician. ‘And Wellow itself, with its pub and old manor house, is the quintessential English village.’ Chapel House, Wellow is for sale with Knight Frank for £650,000.

Anyone contemplating investing in a holiday let would be wise to inspect the small print on the sales details. 

There is a stipulation, for example, that the three-bedroom flat for sale with Winkworth for £695,000 in the converted synagogue in Devonshire Place, a short walk from the seafront in Brighton, may not be used as a holiday let, perfect though it would be.

Pubs can also pose problems. Local planning restrictions usually state that a conversion can’t be carried out unless the owners are able to prove the pub cannot be profitable.

No such problems at the Nag’s Head, Avening in Gloucestershire for sale with Murray Estate Agents for £595,000. This former 18th-century inn is well placed for tourists.

‘We are in the middle of the Royal Triangle — the homes of Prince Charles at Highgrove, Princess Anne at Gatcombe Park and Badminton — so we get lots of royal watchers,’ says owner Nicole Sabine, a journalist. 

‘It has an easy-to-maintain terraced garden so it would make an ideal holiday let.’ 

On the market… Reinvented buildings

Best mortgages

The wheels of British financial justice move at a snail’s pace. In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought the first charges against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Silicon Valley start-up Theranos, in March 2018.

Federal prosecutors brought the first criminal charges within a year, although court hearings were postponed several times because of Covid.

Nevertheless, the whole affair was largely done and dusted, after a jury trial, by January this year. All that is now awaited is sentencing for Holmes on four federal counts of fraud. 

Some two-and-a-half years after the implosion at Neil Woodford’s investment empire around 300,000 investors are still waiting for answers

Contrast this with the UK. An FCA investigation into management culpability for the near collapse of HBOS in 2008 was completed in 2015. But it has been tied up in legal wrangling since then.

A separate inquiry into who, at the top of HBOS/Lloyds, knew what and when about large-scale fraud at the bank’s Reading branch is still in abeyance. 

This is despite the fact that fraud convictions in the £245million case were obtained in 2017.

Some two-and-a-half years after the implosion at Neil Woodford’s investment empire around 300,000 investors are still waiting for answers as to who was responsible for the collapse and failures in the regulation.

In a procedural note, City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has told the Treasury committee that after seeking ‘45 information requirements’ it completed most of the investigatory work by the end of 2021

If anyone involved might have thought that justice and potential compensation for their lost savings could be around the corner, there will be disappointment.

Woodford is said to be advising Acacia Research on life sciences investments. Those of us exposed to his Patient Capital fund, now managed by Schroders and more than 60 per cent down on its asset value, will wonder how on earth that is permitted. 

There are also questions to be asked about investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown which exposed around a quarter of its clients to Woodford funds. 

Authorised manager Link was meant to be there to protect savers’ interests, but clearly fell short.

No disciplinary action is possible yet because of the need for counsel to evaluate the evidence. It will then require legal analysis to assess what regulatory action, if any, is required. 

These steps are ‘not a public process’. Beyond that, there are many hoops to be passed through before matters reach a Regulatory Decisions Committee and eventually the Upper Tribunal, which has court-like powers.

As we know from HBOS and other inquiries, legal hoops are formidable, and armed with the help of City law firms the opportunities to obfuscate and delay are enormous.

One way around all of this (used in the case of RBS) is for the Commons to take control of the FCA’s report and publish it using parliamentary privilege. 

Known facts are then put into the public arena. It provides a great opportunity for Treasury committee chairman Mel Stride to align himself with damaged savers.

Cleaning house

Auditors KPMG have been involved in so many accounting pratfalls, ranging from the Co-op bank debacle to the Fifa bribery scandal, that it is hard to keep track. 

Its position as a Big Four audit firm only remains intact because there is so little competition in the sector. 

Nevertheless, it is refreshing that UK chief executive Jon Holt decided that the best response to its mishandling of the audit of collapsed construction and engineering group Carillion is to make a clear breast.

Rather than tie up the Financial Reporting Council tribunal in legal knots, he acknowledges that the case against his firm, its partners and some junior staff is both ‘disturbing and upsetting’. 

Instead of KPMG partners drawing attention to bad behaviour among others – the real job of an audit – the mistakes were allowed to take place with disastrous consequences for jobs, customers and shareholders.

Restoring KPMG’s reputation will be a long-haul. Recognising the scale of wrong-doing will help.

Price right

If the private-equity backed owners of Morrisons and Asda were hoping to escape wounding grocery price wars in 2022, they will be disappointed.

German-owned Aldi has thrown down the gauntlet by promising it ‘will always offer the lowest prices for groceries, no matter what’. 

That is terrific for consumers but not for owners loaded up with expensive short-term debt.

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