Camden refuses application for a disabled couple’s lift as causing ‘too much harm’ to a Grade II terrace. But weeks later a glass extension at Grade I Bedford Square is recommended for approval.
Conservationists have been left in absolute disbelief as Camden recommended approval for an all-glass conservatory on world-renowned Bedford Square, just weeks after refusing a simple lift nearby as causing ‘too much harm’ to the historic building.
Couple Lucy and Andrew had been waiting years to have their application for a lift at the rear of their Grade II terrace determined, but after being ‘confined to the basement’ for three years were told that their application would be refused due to it causing too much ‘harm’ to their terrace.
They are now appealing to the Planning Inspectorate, but will be forced to sell and move away if they lose their appeal.
Part of the officer report made the point that ‘lifts were not a common feature of Georgian terraces.’
But just weeks later Camden have decided that all-glass extensions are in fact common features of Georgian terraces, and have recommended one for approval at the world-renowned Bedford Square.
The ‘Grade I’ designation is saved for only the most historically and architecturally significant buildings and places in the country. Only a World Heritage Site carries more weight.
Accordingly, planning law and policy means that ‘harm’ can only be done to these heritage assets in ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances.
But Camden’s planners have departed from heritage guidance, policy, conservationists’ advice, and their own established precedent to simply claim that ‘no harm’ is done whatsoever to the Grade I listed terrace or its neighbours by the erection of an all-glass extension and partial demolition of the rear courtyard structures.
The historic ground floor rear elevation would be totally obscured if approved.
During a Bloomsbury Conservation meeting it was joked that a formal objection hardly needed to be written, as the application was so outrageously inappropriate there was no chance that it would be approved.
But luckily the formal objection that was eventually written has saved the application from being privately approved by Camden’s own officers due to the special weight attached to their objections.
It means the Members’ Briefing Panel, a committee of three cross-party councillors, will now meet to decide what to do with the application. There is a reasonable chance it will now be sent to the full planning committee for consideration, adding significant delays and opening the application up to refusal.
The Georgian Group have also been contacted to file an urgent objection.
A formal complaint has already been lodged with the request that the recommendation for approval is withdrawn, due to the judgment of ‘no harm’ as being ‘irrational’ and ‘irregular’.
SB Comment: Delays and Incompetence Abound. But Camden’s Approach to Conservation is Borderline Discriminatory
Camden’s planners have made a number of irregular and irrational decisions in recent months, but none so absurd as this one.
Formal complaints have been held off, with Camden blaming Covid-related problems for some of the clearly irregular decisions that have been made. We were told that Camden had lost planners over the pandemic period, and their finance chief had forbade them from hiring any new ones.
It has led to massive delays for small applicants, and occasional errors in determination.
But most mistakes have been relatively minor in nature. There is no way that an application at Grade I listed Bedford Square should be subject to any kind of incompetence.
Camden has a wealth of conservation-trained planners. But it appears that their advice simply wasn’t sought, or simply ignored on this application.
It shows how little Camden’s planning department care about historic places as a whole, despite Camden being charged with protecting some of the most significant historic places in the country and the world.
And while the dysfunctional national planning system actually promotes harm to historic places when it brings ‘public benefit’ (as in the case of Belgrove House), small applications like this one bring no public benefit. It means that when even a tiny degree of harm is caused to an historic place planning law is clear: it is completely unacceptable, and cannot be approved.
Camden recently showed they were operating to the letter of the law when they refused a lift at the rear of Grade II Regent Square, despite support from conservation associations.
But in this case Camden has decided that ‘no harm’ is caused to the Grade I Bedford Square, which allows them to approve it.
It means no fingers can be pointed at the national government or planning guidelines: in this case, the blame is all on Camden’s shoulders.
And questions are rightly being raised about why so much unnecessary attention was paid towards a harmless lift at the rear of a Grade II terrace, when a completely inappropriate glass extension at the rear of a Grade I terrace is being waved through planning, against numerous detailed objections and clear guidance and policy.
Whatever is going on behind closed doors, one thing is clear: Camden needs to clamp down on incompetence and ignorance when it comes to conservation, or at some point down the line their irrational decisions will end up being quashed in the courts.