The third storey roof terrace overlooking St Laurence’s Church and the Reader’s House has been approved. It is an appalling decision.
The town council objected. Ludlow’s conservation committee objected. Ludlow Civic Society objected. I asked for the decision to be made by the planning committee. All this was to no avail. Planning officers approved the scheme yesterday.
This decision, which in my opinion ignores court rulings about protecting the setting of historic buildings, was made after a secretive meeting by planning officers and the chair and vice chair of the Southern Planning Committee. That meeting decided to delegate the decision to officers who immediately approved the scheme. Did the chair and vice chair visit the site before they made that decision? We don’t know because the process is shrouded in secrecy but I doubt they did so.
Shropshire Council’s planning system must be overhauled to give greater respect to local representations and the historic environment.
I summarised my views of this scheme in a previous article.
There were four late expressions of support for the scheme. They all make similar arguments. That outdoor space has been invaluable during lockdown. That there is an elevated balcony on the Church Inn. These are important points which the Southern Planning Committee would have balanced against arguments opposing the scheme.
Planners cite the Church Inn balcony as a precedent. They note it was approved in 2006. They don’t ask whether it would it be approved now. I very much doubt it. The law on developments within the setting of listed buildings and ancient monuments was clarified in 2014 when an appeal court judgement said that it is not enough to only protect heritage assets. The judges said it also important to protect the area around heritage assets from intrusive development. That judgement pushed the protection of heritage assets to the fore of planning decisions. It gave heritage greater weight in the planning balance. I do not believe that the Church Inn balcony would have been approved after the 2014 judgement.
In this case, officers judged there would be no impact on the setting of the Grade I-listed Readers House and St Laurence’s Church. But how did they determine this? There are no documents on the planning portal showing the views of the terrace from outside the Reader’s House or from Tower Street. Why weren’t these requested by officers? Planners don’t seem to have given any consideration to the view from Tower Street at all.
Planners did not have sufficient information before them to judge this application. Detailed views of the terrace from Church Walk and Tower Street should have been commissioned. This development may be small scale but it is in the setting of two of the most important historic buildings in England.
The other argument the planners put forward can be summarised as town centres are noisy. Hence an elevated balcony, even if noisy, will make no difference. This is a flawed argument. I have spoken to local residents and they say there is some disturbance on Church Walk from local hostelries but this is occasional. A party on the roof terrace would create hours of continuous noise that will pervade the tranquility of St Laurence’s churchyard and the Jubilee Garden. There is a planning condition that use of the balcony should cease by 11pm. How is that going to be enforced by the council?
This is not just another example of Shirehall trampling all over Ludlow. It sets an important precedent that diminishes the importance of the setting of heritage assets in our town and historic towns across the county. It treats Ludlow like a crap town centre, not the historic gem it is.
We have moved away from the age when huge swathes of historic centres were bulldozed. But there is a new threat. The character of town centres like ours is set to be undermined by successive small, bad decisions. That’s why I am so angry about this decision.