It has been almost two decades since Britain’s biggest psychiatric institution closed its doors for the final time.
Empty and abandoned, the iconic Whittingham Hospital had been left to slowly decay, waiting for a decision on its future.
But now demolition work on the sprawling buildings has finally begun, before the first bricks are laid of a mammoth housing scheme.
The plan to redevelop the site was first proposed in the mid 1990s, but local opposition and problems for a prospective developer have seen the site boarded up for the last 19 years.
Now the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), who owns the site, plans to start building the first part of a 650-home project following careful demolition work.
Experts from Technical Demolition Services have now been on site since February, working on the anticipated 12-month project.
Commercial director Craig Wilson said: “In general terms, our remit is to demolish the buildings that are on that site and excavate all the concrete slabs and foundations of the building.
“Within that, there are a number of issues which means the contract is slightly out of the ordinary because there was an ecology survey undertaken, mainly dealing with bats and birds, that means we don’t just go in and demolish the building.
“There are a number of bats which are to be found nesting in the building, which means we have to have ecologists present throughout the demolition.
“They, working alongside us, will investigate the roof areas of the buildings before we can remove roofs.”
Craig said three bat barns had been built on the dite, as well as about 90 bat boxes.
He said: “The other issue is there is asbestos present within the buildings, and that means the demolition process is a slow, planned process to enable to asbestos to be removed prior to the demolition of the buildings.
“Once those two issues have been dealt with, then the buildings can be demolished safely.”
The team has so far removed slates from about 75 per cent of the buildings, which cannot be done once the bat season restarts at the end of the month.
Any slates still remaining will then not be able to be removed until the end of the roosting season in September.
Craig explained the way the buildings was being demolished and said: “We have a number of excavators on site.
“They are excavating machines with a hydraulic concrete breaker on the end, which will remove the walls of the buildings and bring the buildings down.
“We are looking to aim for 98 per cent recycling on the whole operation.
“Slate is being removed and recycled, the brick work will either be reclaimed or crushed and reused on site.”
He added: “We are very pleased to be involved in such a prestigious project working alongside the HCA and the associated management team.”
Whittingham opened in 1873 and grew to be Britain’s biggest mental hospital with its own farms, telephone exchange, railway, post office, gasworks, butchers and brewery.