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Planning the Heritage of Modern Buildings

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We as a population and our government have got to decide what we think is ‘heritage’ and what sort of protection it needs from ourselves or indeed deserves. This, amongst a time of cuts and reviews, is dangerous. Nevertheless, it needs to be done and needs to be done in ways that cost no more than the current expenditure, but also in a way that is more streamlined with less resources.

This is the message from a recent publication by the Country Land owners Association (CLA) on ‘Averting Crisis in Heritage’. Among its many reform ideas is a particular case study which is very relevant to farmers and landowners in Essex who may own one of the many traditional farm buildings that are characteristic of our county.

This case study is about the conversion of a 17th century listed barn near Greenstead Farm in Essex where the closure of a post office inside it meant it needed a new use. The owners, after consultation with the local people, decided to convert it to a farm shop and cafe. This was approved and although after a long period of deliberation about the particular choice of roofing material and highway concerns, it went ahead. An approach like this is excellent and it makes good use economically and historically of the building, not only conserving the important heritage of the timber framed barn but also ensuring its maintenance in years to come.

However some owners are not always aware of what is important in terms of the architectural or archaeological character of a particular building. An example of this comes from Yorkshire where, in The Queen on the Application of East Riding Yorkshire Council vs Hobson, a planning application was made to extend and alter part of a Grade II listed building consisting of three parts (the listing applies to all of the building complex). Permission was granted to extend part of the main house and alteration of the stable block by way of removing the roof, extending the walls and eaves vertically and replacement of the same roof.

After the work was completed it was clear that the ‘alterations’ (that basically meant the raising of the walls and roof of the stable block) actually turned out to be a demolition of the building with a small percentage of the old bricks reused in the new building. This provided an interesting debate in the courts as to what the law defines as a ‘change in character’ as set out in Section 7 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 which  makes it a criminal offence to do so. Here the lack of clarification in what exactly is the ‘character’ of the building came into the spotlight. Is it a particular style of building work or just the materials used that give it its character? Equally is the complete dismantling of a building in order to re-erect it with the same external description a change in ‘character’.

The point of listing a building is to protect it from such demolition because from an archaeological perspective, the character is partly the materials but also the methods of construction and other small details that make the building what it is. Listed Buildings may always seem problematic, whichever way you look at them, but they can be maintained/converted successfully if the owner understands and is aware of what precisely buildings are listed for, allowing both the planning authority and the owner to come to an agreement.

For additional information please contact Edward Worthy on 01245 228124 or 

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.