Chimneys removed from Wrexham building without permission must be reinstated
Wrexham Council has determined chimneys removed from a building without planning permission in the city’s conservation area should be reinstated.
A retrospective application was considered by the planning committee for the removal of four chimneys from 18 Yorke Street, which is within the city’s Special Conservation Area.
One chimney had sustained damage in stormy weather early last year, making it unsafe and this led to work being carried out by the applicant to remove the other chimneys with concern about their safety too.
Applicant Jason Lewis said his wife had at that time only just inherited the property through bequest leaving them with responsibility for the building.
Speaking at the meeting, he told councillors he had acted in good faith to meet the authority’s health and safety requirements and blasted the council for a lack of communication between departments leading to enforcement action being taken by conservation.
“I was told we had a few weeks to do the work, and it was emphasised weeks not months”, Mr Lewis said.
“Advice or instruction was never given to contact any other department before commencement or during the work. To the contrary we were told health and safety superseded all other matters, there was no need to source permissions or permits to carry out the work immediately.
“The building insurers visited and refused to pay for any work as regular roof maintenance had, in their opinion, not been undertaken.
“The roof assessment; one chimney collapse, another bulging to one side, two remaining small chimneys were rocking on the abutments with lead flashing. The roof needed a complete strip and re-slating, its curve required very skilled slating contractors and Welsh slates were purchased.
“We advised the department we had taken the chimneys down and re-slated the whole roof. It added up to a cost of over £30,000, my wife had no savings and we had to use the proceeds of my own recent injury compensation.
“Work was completed, scaffolding was brought down and the road was reopened after six weeks. Conservation contacted us the day after work was complete and told us that enforcement action would now be taken against us for undertaking work without planning permission.”
Mr Lewis was told that an application would take months, whereas he had only been given weeks to carry out the reactionary work.
He added that he was told by the council that if a retrospective planning application was made “the paper trail would end and the issue would go away”.
Mr Lewis said: “Not once in six weeks of the work did conservation visit the building, contact the owners or speak with building control.
“When later we asked why not they claimed to not know the work was taking place, yet it had been the only building in Wrexham covered in scaffolding with its roof off and a road closure in place.
“Going forward departments should work together in the city centre. Building control threatening enforcement and not involving conservation was a blatant shortfall in council procedure at that time.”
He added: “We acted with no malice and have no further funds to spend on the roof.”
Ward member Smithfield Cllr Jon Jolley (Plaid) spoke to back up Mr Lewis’ statement.
Cllr Jolley said: “This was not a botch job but a serious attempt to do the right thing.
“If it was anything else I would not have asked for this to come before the committee or spoken in support of it.
“There’s a good case to say the work undertaken has safeguarded what was a leaking and dilapidated roof. The main architectural feature of this roof is the sweeping curve which has been maintained and enhanced.”
Council planning officers said they were not questioning the quality of the re-slating but that planning permission is required to remove chimneys and they were not presented with evidence on the condition of the others before removal.
Grosvenor Cllr Marc Jones (Plaid) supported the applicant and said: “Two different departments of the council were making competing demands on the owners.
“The applicants have pointed out the lack of consistency in imposing conditions along the conservation area and there’s some merit in that.”
He added that derelict chimneys added little to the street scene and suggested councillors grant the application due to the exceptional circumstances.
But Ruabon Cllr Dana Davies (Lab) said while she sympathised with the applicant she worried the council could miss out on heritage grants and regeneration money if they authorised the removal of the chimneys.
Glyn Ceiriog Cllr Trevor Bates (Ind) spoke in favour of granting the application.
He said: “I see no reason to make the applicants build the chimneys back up again and I couldn’t support that. What is the purpose of rebuilding those chimneys?”
Chairing the meeting, Holt Cllr Mike Morris (Con) said it was important to remember the work carried out was unauthorised and that “has consequences”.
Gresford Cllr Jeremy Kent (Con) was another who spoke in support of the applicants.
He said: “I think the applicants have had a situation thrust upon them through circumstance and they’ve done what they can to futureproof the building.”
Despite this, the vote was split with five votes for and five votes against. Committee chair Cllr Morris had the casting vote which decided that the application should be refused.
By BBC LDRS
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