Council urged to act quickly to prevent loss of heritage assets

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PLANNING departments at Yorkshire councils are being urged by heritage campaigners to take swift action against developers and builders who damage the fabric of listed buildings and ignore planning guidelines.

Civic societies in Huddersfield and Halifax have called on local authorities to use their powers of enforcement to tackle builders who breach planning guidelines designed to protect the most important buildings.

The groups made the calls following the prosecution of a property development company in Calderdale which unlawfully demolished a listed building in Northowram, Halifax.

Calderdale planning officers have been praised by heritage campaigners for their swift action in visiting the property on the same day they were informed of the unauthorised works.

The developer was fined and told to protect what is left of the property.

M. Hillas (Properties) Ltd has to pay £3,000, plus costs of £1,000, for partly knocking down the Grade II* listed Marsh Hall barn at Lands Head End, Northowram without Calderdale Council’s permission.

The owner of the barn, Mark Hillas, is a director of the company.

In May last year the council’s planning officers were informed that Marsh Hall barn was in the process of being pulled down. They visited the site the same 
day and found that half of the 
barn had been demolished illegally.

Mark Hillas was there and confirmed to officers that he was the director of M. Hillas (Properties) Ltd and had given permission for the unauthorised work to the barn, but claimed he had listed building consent allowing its conversion to a house.

The Council confirmed, however, that the demolition went far beyond what the consent gave approval for, and was a clear breach of planning control.

A large part of the aisled barn was destroyed, including the removal of the majority of the internal timbers which dated from the 17th century or possibly earlier.

The barn contributed to the character and setting of the main listed building, Marsh Hall, the council said.

The authority served a stop notice and enforcement notice to prevent any further unauthorised work being carried out. Earlier this month Mr Hillas pleaded guilty to the partial demolition of Marsh Hall barn.

Heritage campaigners welcomed the councils’s swift action - but said some authorities were guilty of dragging their feet when faced with planning breaches.

Chris Marsden, chairman of Huddersfield Civic Society, said the council’s action in this case was “spot on”, although the fine was too low to act as a deterrent.

He said listed buildings were often at risk of crumbling away of being vandalised because they were owned by poorly-funded local authorities who, as the enforcement agency, were unlikely to take action against themselves.

And John Hargreaves, chairman of Halifax Civic Society, said councils were restricted by what they could do because of limited resources.

“In this instance (the barn), they have been proactive which is to be commended. One would hope the resources of the council might be strengthened. I think when something is drawn to their attention, they act.

“It’s often a slow process. It takes time to get people out - this is where resources are stretched.”

A Calderdale Council spokeswoman said: “Instances of work taking place without consent are rare but, if this occurs, the owner is committing a crime, and could face prosecution.

“In the recent case involving M Hillas (Properties), and the part demolition of a Grade II* listed building, the council acted quickly.

“Officers visited the site the same day the information about the part demolition was received, and served a stop notice and enforcement notice to prevent any further unauthorised work being carried out.”