The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Walton Court, Birds Eye HQ, Photo © Stacey Harris licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons licence

Landmark court case provides hope for C20 Society in campaign to halt demolition of former Birds Eye HQ

We are using a recent Court of Appeal judgment to challenge the refusal by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to call in the application to demolish the Grade II listed former Birds Eye HQ in Walton-on-Thames.

Last week, in a landmark case brought by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, a judge ruled that ministers should have given reasons for refusing to call in Renzo Piano’s controversial Paddington Cube scheme in London and rebuked the government for failing to follow its own rules.

SAVE successfully argued that ministers are obliged to give reasons when they decline to call in planning applications. This policy has been ignored by civil servants and ministers since 2014. It means that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government must now follow his own published advice and give reasons for his decisions.

C20 Caseworker Grace Etherington said: “No reasons were given by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government when they refused to call in the planning application for Walton Court on 14 September. In light of the recent SAVE ruling, we consider that response to be deficient, and we think these are substantial grounds warranting a reconsideration of the case. The original promise to explain decision making was made ‘in the interest of transparency, good administration and best practice’. It is clearly right that ministers should be clear about the reasons for their decisions.”

Grace added: “The criteria for MHCLG to call in a planning application is currently extremely vague, and is understood to apply to cases having a national rather than a local impact. With improved clarity in what this means in practice, time can be saved in identifying cases that should be called in, and questions can be raised about the suitability of existing policy where necessary. This court ruling is a fantastic result for SAVE and for campaigners within and beyond the conservation world. It is a positive step towards greater transparency in the planning system.”

The grounds for our request for the Walton Court application to be called-in have not changed, and we still consider the balance between public benefits and loss of the Grade II listed building to not have been properly judged by Elmbridge Borough Council. In choosing to ignore the importance of historic buildings when specifying potential new housing sites in the borough, the local authority’s approach is in direct conflict with national policy. We are alarmed about the precedent this case could set if left unchallenged, as historic buildings around the country will be threatened if the development of the land on which they stand is judged to be of greater importance than their preservation.

Further information about our longstanding campaign to save Walton Court is available here.

To read more about Walton Court’s history, see our Building of the Month piece here.

To see a British Pathé film of Walton Court in its heyday, click here.