The Retreat, Tunbridge Wells

Conversion of listed building The Retreat, Tunbridge Wells, into 19 luxury apartments

Set in attractive parkland close to the centre of popular spa town of Tunbridge Wells, the 37-bedroom Retreat was a former well-known local hotel which dated back to the 1880s.

Having been in a state of decline for some time, the building underwent a total refurbishment by high-end home developer Kentish Projects and now houses 19 individually designed high-spec modern apartments.

Kent-based Red Key Concepts Design & Build Ltd were appointed as the Main Contractor for the project in 2021, to completely refurbish the development and form a mix of 19 (1,2 and 3 bedroom) high end, contemporary apartments. This involved removing virtually the entire internal structure – including the main staircase – from the five-storey building, replacing and refurbishing all the original sash windows and renovating the roof.

The almost entire removal of the interior from such a large structure, plus the retention of as many of the Victorian building’s original features as possible – including the stained-glass feature windows, brickwork, and balconies – meant that there were considerable building control challenges to be overcome.

“We have worked with Harwood many times in the past and brought them in to provide building control services on this quite sensitive project”, said Charley Gremo-Gilham, Red Key Concepts Design & Build Ltd Co-Founder and Business Director.

As Harwood’s Principal Building Control Surveyor Paul Robinson confirms: “This project has been an exceptionally involving one – we were delighted to be given the opportunity to assist on the project and to work with Red Key Concepts Design & Build Ltd again.”

Areas of focus for Harwood

Apart from problems caused by the pandemic, including a delayed start to the project and associated supply chain issues, the refurbishment of a listed building such as The Retreat presented Harwood with a particular set of constraints regarding building control.

Fire safety

Whereas modern buildings will have passive fire protection built in, when it comes to heritage buildings: “Protective measures are often controversial because they can be disruptive to the original fabric of the building, and the physical installation of the systems can sometimes be difficult”[1]. Paul explains more: “The need to install fire-safety measures that could be incorporated within the existing structure meant that we had to carry out several more inspections than would have been necessary on a new build.”

Energy efficiency

This was another issue Harwood were required to address. Although energy-efficient flats are more attractive to prospective purchasers – particularly with the government’s net-zero target of 2050 in mind – Historic England point out that, in the case of historic buildings, ‘a balance needs to be achieved between improving energy efficiency and avoiding damage both to the significance of the building and its fabric.’

As Paul says: “Taking a wider “whole building” view in projects such as this is preferable to enforcing rigid regulations which could harm a listed structure’s essential character.”

Change of use

The rules governing the change of use of a structure – particularly a listed building – are specific and require expert guidance from building control advisers to ensure that building regulations are adhered to. Harwood were on hand throughout the project to make sure all these issues were resolved in full.

Paul Robinson sums up Harwood’s contribution to the refurbishment: “We’re proud to have been a part of this prestigious project which has helped to bring some much-needed extra residential accommodation to Tunbridge Wells. We’re particularly pleased to have been able to work with the contractors to help maintain the original character of the building and its picturesque surroundings.”



For more information about Harwood and how our building control inspection services can add value to your projects, get in touch with our team today on +44 (0)1227 931 777 or email

If you are looking to mitigate risks in terms of delays or unexpected costs, the experience of Harwood Approved Inspectors ensures buildings are safe for their users by identifying non-compliant features and working with design teams and contractors so they can create real-world solutions to construction challenges.  With its Head Office in Kent, Harwood provides Approved Inspector building control services for commercial construction projects across England and Wales.  Our highly professional yet approachable approach and pragmatic attitude ensures the details that matter are taken care of.

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