A few weeks ago, I attended a planning seminar at Ripley Castle in Yorkshire organised by the Historic Houses Association (HHA). It was a chilling presentation which contained a clear message: the current planning proposals — which close for consultation next week— pose a serious threat, not just to our countryside, but to our heritage. With the removal of Public Planning Statement 5 (PPS5) from the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), there are now few safeguards to prevent developers building 300ft-high industrial wind turbines right next to historic castles, new sprawling social housing next to the walls of stately homes or 12th-century village churches.
No, no! I can already hear the government ministers’ response. There are sufficient protections in place in the draft; we’ve just made it simpler. Well, the problem with this argument is that only two weeks ago the fears of the heritage and conservation lobby were confirmed. An appeal has just been allowed by a government inspector that will give permission for a four-bedroom ‘executive home’ with detached garage to be built within 500 yards of the Great Barn in the Oxfordshire village of Great Coxwell.
When you drive into the village, you immediately see why the 13th-century barn has been Grade 1 listed. It’s a testament to the skills of Gothic carpenters and the wealth and influence of the great monastic orders; the sole surviving part of a thriving 13th-century grange that once provided vital income to Beaulieu Abbey. The Great Barn was described by William Morris as ‘the finest architecture’ in England and ‘unapproachable in its dignity’. It was given to the National Trust in 1956.
Unapproachable, that is, until the government planning inspector David Nicholson decided to interpret the new NPPF planning guidelines even though the draft plans are still in ‘consultation’ phase. Developments have in the past been rejected.