The Society’s Honorary Solicitor, Joseph S Mirwitch LL.M. (Lond.) Solicitor (Hons), brings us up to date on Greenside and asks members to write to the Planning Inspectorate supporting our cause.
“Greenside” was a very important British ‘modern movement’ house. It was a fine example of the work of Connell, Ward and Lucas, constructed 1937, in the leafy setting of a site immediately adjacent to the 17th green of the Wentworth Golf Course. It was a listed building and, in the Society’s view, the appropriate application of relevant law and planning policy should have ensured its protection. However, in considering the proposal for its demolition, Runnymede Borough Council refused to take the sound advice of its own planning officers. The vehement representations of the Society, and also the pleas of other national amenity societies and concerned organisations were ignored. The building was thus put at risk. Then,” Greenside” was unlawfully demolished in an act of wanton destruction by its owner.
Runnymede’s Decisions and The Public Inquiry Back in the spring of last year, the Society mounted a successful judicial review challenging the initial decision of Runnymede to grant listed building consent for the demolition of Greenside. The order of the High Court that quashed Runnymede’s decision, required them to reconsider the matter. Most regrettably when this was done in November last, the local authority again determined to grant consent to demolition, although they did stipulate that this decision was subject to the matter being referred to the Secretary of State, so he could consider whether to ‘call the matter in’ and order a public inquiry. (Runnymede also, at this time, indicated they were prepared to consent to the site owner’s application for planning permission to construct a ‘replacement dwelling’ for Greenside, in a ‘stockbrokers Edwardian revival’ style).
The owner did not wait to see if the Secretary of State would clear the matter, but arranged for immediate demolition. The Deputy Prime Minister has now ‘called in’, to be decided by the Secretary of State, both the application for listed building consent to demolish and the planning application for the proposed replacement. A public inquiry has been convened. This will commence on 23 November and is expected to last three or four days. It will take place at the Civic Centre, Addlestone.
When they reconsidered the application to demolish Greenside, Runnymede accepted the architectural importance of the building but sought to justify their decision on purported ‘Human Rights’ grounds. Runnymede take the view that refusal of consent to demolish Greenside would be a denial of the owner’s right to maximise the potential value of his property. (Because of its special location, the cleared Greenside site with planning permission to build a high specification house with a design based on an historical pastiche, is probably worth several millions of pounds. The site with the listed Greenside standing may only have been worth a mere £1.5 million!) Runnymede take the view that “on balance” the safeguarding of this “human right” to get the maximum profit, should prevail over the authority’s duty to protect the listed building.
The owner of the property is continuing to contend that Greenside was not of real architectural merit and that this modern movement building should not have been listed. He is also arguing that Greenside was a substandard and unsound design. He has commissioned ‘expert witnesses’ who will put these views to the public inquiry.
Although Greenside has now been destroyed, the public inquiry proceedings and the eventual Secretary of State decision will be of crucial relevance to the future application of planning policy for the protection of listed buildings. Runnymede’s decision on grounds of human rights, if unchallenged and applied by other local planning authorities, could potentially undermine national policy for the protection of buildings of architectural importance. As well as this general application, because of the additional issues now raised by the owner, this will inevitably be the ‘leading case’ relating to the conservation and protection of important post 1914 architecture.
Preparing for the Public Inquiry The Society will be re-presented at the public inquiry by John Dagg, a specialist planning counsel. (John Dagg has kindly agreed to take on the matter on account of his particular concern for the issues involved.) The Society will be calling to give evidence on its behalf leading experts in their respective fields, who are all members of the Society. Our expert witnesses will be: John Allan (conservation architect); Malcolm Judd (chartered town planner); Alan Powers (architectural historian and critic); and Stuart Tappin (structural engineer). Our expert witnesses have all, most generously, agreed to undertake the matter ‘pro bono publica’ and to waive their professional fees.
The Society’s decision to mount a case at the public inquiry is applauded and backed by all the other national amenity societies. We have received expressions of support from concerned organisations and informed people throughout the country. English Heritage are also opposing the local planning authority’s policy and will be represented at the Inquiry. We will be facing vigorous defences by both Runnymede and by the site owner, who will each be separately represented by their respective barristers.
Although our costs have been very considerably defrayed by the voluntary services given by members, (without whose public spirited action it would not have been possible for the Society to mount a fully effective representation) we will inevitably be incurring necessary expenses in preparing and presenting our case. Any contributions that members wish to make to the fighting fund would be much appreciated. Members can also assist by writing to The Inspector in support of the Society’s case. These representations are important as they demonstrate real informed public concern so we do hope that Members will help in this way.
It would be very much appreciated if Members could consider sending their representations to the Inspector, in support of the Society. These representations are important and will help in showing real informed concern.
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