Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Listed Building Control problems
A row is brewing up in Llandudno over Conwy County Borough Council’s crackdown on unauthorised alterations to listed buildings in the town. This particularly affects the town’s Victorian hotels, where replacement windows were installed as long as 20 or 30 years ago in some cases.
The problem is that whereas the 4-year rule applies so as to limit the time within which enforcement action can be taken against unauthorised building works or external alterations which should have had planning permission, there is no limitation period for the enforcement of listed building controls, so that any unauthorised alterations to a listed building which took place on or after 1 January 1969 remain vulnerable to enforcement action for ever.
Hence, over-zealous enforcement officers in Conwy CBC have started a crusade to force owners of listed buildings to removed unauthorised replacement windows in Llandudno, even where these have been in place since the 1970s, and the town’s hoteliers (who are the group most affected by this officious campaign) are up in arms about it.
Council officers have been unrepentant so far about their draconian action, but it throws a harsh light on the unfairness of a system which can lead to listed building enforcement action being taken against the owner of a listed building who may have had no idea that a previous owner had carried out unauthorised alterations up to 43 years ago!
I previously mentioned a case where an owner of a listed building in London was obliged to appeal against an enforcement notice which alleged that a dormer window had been removed without listed building consent. The owner, who had no knowledge that there been any unauthorised alterations to the building, was put in an extremely difficult position, and it was only the fortuitous discovery of an old photograph proving that the dormer window had in fact been removed long before the building was listed that prevented the enforcement notice being upheld.
I am aware of a listed building not far from here whose listing description includes the information that it had, among other features, “parapet, two dormers behind”. The LPA, if they ever take a close look at the building, will discover that the dormers are absent, as is the stone or brick parapet, in place of which there is a wooden fascia board. A keen enforcement officer might conclude that there have been unauthorised alterations to this listed building, but the fact of the matter is that this building never had dormers in the roof, nor was there ever a parapet – only a fascia board. The listing description is simply wrong! Fortunately, the building in question is fairly prominent in the townscape and appears in numerous photographs going back well over a century, which prove these facts.
Local planning authorities should therefore be cautious in their approach to listed building control, and should be absolutely sure of their facts before launching enforcement proceedings against allegedly unauthorised alterations to listed buildings. There is also a need for a more proportionate approach where the unauthorised alterations have been in place for a considerable period of time. Whilst the need to protect listed buildings clearly makes it inappropriate to apply the same 4-year rule to listed building control as applies to other unauthorised development, there is a need for some reasonable limitation period, even if only informally applied, and the hoteliers of Llandudno are surely entitled to expect that they should not be required to remove windows which were installed some 25 or 30 years ago. Enforcement action in such cases serves only to bring the planning system into disrepute.
© MARTIN H GOODALL