Picking up the pieces

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PLANNERS are trying to work through a number of applications in a positive way after an owner ‘literally took a sledgehammer’ to a grade II-listed building in north Northumberland.

There are currently ten separate listed building consent applications lodged with Northumberland County Council for alterations to various rooms and areas of Fowberry Tower in Chatton.

Peter Rutherford, the county council’s north area development manager, and planning officer Ros Duncan attended last Thursday’s meeting of Tillside Parish Council as members were concerned about the number of applications and wanted to know how they could support the planning department.

And Mr Rutherford revealed that the situation was even more complicated as they were trying to understand the ‘issues with work that’s unauthorised and has already been undertaken’.

“Officers were literally shocked about the amount of intervention going on in the early months of our awareness,” he said.

“We are finding it very difficult to impress upon them the seriousness of what has happened and to seek their co-operation moving forward.”

Mr Rutherford also said that while there was a case for prosecution, as unauthorised alterations to a listed building are a criminal offence, the planning department was trying to move forward with the building’s best interests at heart.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s a fairly robust case if we decide to prosecute,” he said.

“We have been trying to unpick and devise a strategy to enable us to move the building forward.

“We are acting in the interests of the building, and protecting and maintaining the significance of the heritage asset.”

Ms Duncan added: “Once something’s been done, the damage has been done, and we have tried to look positively on the applications that we can do.”

She revealed that certain applications for the kitchen and West Wing had now been approved but there were plenty to go, ‘not all of which I will feel able to approve’.

Coun Jim Railton said that he felt ‘quite sorry’’ for the owner of Fowberry, a private property, although he admitted he had been a ‘‘bit of a vandal’.

“There are lots of listed buildings that are falling down in our parish,”” he said. “”Hopefully he will get it right with your guidance.”

Mr Rutherford said that ‘’a bit of a vandal’’ was an understatement as, never mind the proverbial, the owner had ‘’literally taken a sledgehammer’’ to the grade-II listed building.

But he did concede that we ‘are ‘very much at the behest of the owners of listed buildings to maintain them’’.

Ms Duncan said: “”We wouldn’t be looking to stop him doing anything with the building; the point is it has to be agreed before.”