Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

HBC seeks post hoc approval for ruining ‘Roman’ ruin

A Grade 2 building in Lower Bohemia is the subject of a retrospective planning application, the legal-but-dubious mechanism of the confused or shifty. The applicant is Hastings Borough Council (HBC). What they’ve done and now want permission for is to cover the ‘Roman Bath’ (the neoclassical feature of the grounds of Bohemia House) with industrial fencing. Is this what the site really needs?  Bernard McGinley goes into Summerfield Wood to find out.

One of the many treats of Summerfields Wood, in eastern Lower Bohemia, is the Roman Bath | Grotto, a neoclassical feature of Old Bohemia House. It dates from the mid-19th century and was listed in 1999. Historic England therefore regards it as ‘of special architectural or historic interest considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting’. 

The application is HS/LB/20/00805, for retrospective listed building consent:

Installation of galvanised protection barriers to the Archway, Side Steps and lower Bath area. | Roman Bath, Summerfields Wood, Bohemia Road.

The Brisco family owned Bohemia House and grounds from 1831, and Wastel Brisco (1824-1891) used the site’s natural features of springs and a pond to make a feature of a ‘Roman’ antiquity. More on the turbulent history of the site is here.

The situation has rolled on for some years, recently obscured by the pandemic. Now the Council must either give itself permission or pursue enforcement action against itself. Its report on the case will make for interesting reading.

The gates and grille, now deteriorating, were reportedly done for vague ‘health & safety’ reasons but the Grotto and pool is not known to be a hazard, and there are better ways to treat a monument of national significance.

(The design of the gates would suit better the opening at Laser Lane, Kings Road in St Leonards, intended to deny opportunities for anti-social behaviour: case HS/FA/21/00298. Filling the space fully with solid and opaque gates does not improve the Victorian streetscape or the Conservation Area. This case too is undecided.)

The deadline for comments on the Roman bath is Friday 2 July, via the application siteor to the Council’s DC [development control] Comments:

quoting ref HS/LB/20/00805.

HBC policies apparently being breached include:

Policy EN1: Built and Historic Environment (‘conservation of the historic environment, including those heritage assets identified as being most at risk through neglect, decay or other threats’)  

Policy EN2: Green Infrastructure Network (‘conserve and enhance priority natural areas’) 

Policy EN7: Conservation and Enhancement of Landscape (‘protect and enhance the town’s landscape’).

Instead of seeking conservation advice or permission, the Council has made ugly a very old and attractive feature of the  grounds, adding to its deterioration and neglect, and set a damaging example for the cowboy developers who flourish locally. 

Restoration, maintenance and an element of those planners’ favourites ‘protect and enhance’ are needed for the Roman Bath.  

Some wonder if there is a role for the nearby Bohemia Walled Garden (successsfully revived in 2008) in improving the area. There is also the Friends of Summerfields Woods.


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Posted 16:31 Thursday, Jul 1, 2021 In: Home Ground


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  1. Vitruvius

    An interesting point has been raised: the works have been carried out illegally and a prosecution could follow, even if the works are subsequently approved. It is clear form Historic England’s website who might be possibly be prosecuted but it is not clear (at least to me) who has the authority to prosecute. Is it Historic England, or would HBC be responsible for bringing a prosecution?

    Comment by Vitruvius — Thursday, Jul 8, 2021 @ 17:18

  2. Mrs heather Grief

    Please send in your objections to this ‘caging-in’ of the ‘Roman’ bath.

    Also, if you submit a petition with 10 or more signatures (HBC’s planning website tells you how to do so, and it can be in paper form), you are able to speak for 5 minutes at the meeting of the planning committee – it has to be received at least 3 days in advance of the meeting, and the next one is on 21st July.

    Comment by Mrs heather Grief — Saturday, Jul 3, 2021 @ 22:46

  3. Christopher Hurrell

    The application is retrospective – the works have already been carried out without obtaining Listed Building Consent. A criminal offence under the regulations. HBC’s complete contempt for following proper process sets a green light for rogue developers to carry out works without seeking prior permission in the full knowledge that there are no repercussions. HBC have not even bothered to consult conservation and Historic England on this retrospective application.

    Damage has been caused to the Scheduled Monument (iron-age hill fort) at Rocklands without obtaining permission – works include construction of 25metres of retaining walls, excavations and steps. HBC has just turned a blind eye and refused to take any enforcement action. The grade 2 listed pier has numerous unauthorised developments that require Listed Building Consent. Scheduled Monuments and Listed Buildings in Mugsborough are unprotected. Our protected heritage is being destroyed while the council and planning enforcement fiddles. Time for elected councillors to wake up and stop the rot.

    Comment by Christopher Hurrell — Friday, Jul 2, 2021 @ 13:15

  4. Vitruvius

    Arrogance or Incompetence?

    Are Council Officers unaware of the correct procedures that should have been followed in respect of proposed works to a Grade II listed building?

    Or did they assume that they need not follow them?

    Either way, our elected Councillors should insist on a thorough review of what went wrong in this case, and ensure that there is a robust management system in place in future to ensure the Council is not placed, yet again, in the embarrassing position of appearing to endorse an ongoing policy of “do as I say not as I do”.

    Comment by Vitruvius — Friday, Jul 2, 2021 @ 11:41

  5. Bernard McGinley

    Historic England guidance is that a planning appplication such as this one should be made ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’.  That clearly did not happen here.

    If there were safety concerns and the works were ‘urgently necessary’, was cordoning off considered instead?  Were the ‘minimum necessary and temporary works of repairs’ done?  Was there a statement of justification of works?  

    Historic England also state:
    ‘It is an  offence  to carry out works that require Listed Building Consent without such consent being obtained.’

    ‘It is not a defence to say that the fact that the building was listed was not known.’

    ‘The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine.’ 

    See also Chapter II of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.  In addition there’s the matter of criminal damage to a listed building.   (HE states ‘The fact that the works are given consent after the event does not alter the fact that an offence may have been committed’.) ​​​​​​​

    No doubt the committee report will explain these matters fully.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Friday, Jul 2, 2021 @ 10:34

  6. Andrea Needham

    It should be noted that although the official closing date for objections is 2 July, HBC accepts objections up to 3 working days before the application is heard by the planning committee. The earliest this one could be heard is 21 July, so do continue to object even if you’ve missed the official deadline.

    I contacted HBC about this last year and was told that it was a temporary measure because it was structurally unsound, but that the grilles would be removed once it had been fixed. Now it looks like it’s a permanent thing. The risible ‘health and safety assessment’ put in as part of the planning application says that hazards include needles (no idea how putting up a grille stops people dropping their needles), slippery steps, and drowning. Yes, really. On that basis, I assume HBC is about to submit a planning application to put a grille over the two large ponds in Summerfields woods, as well as the ponds and reservoirs in Alexandra Park and every other site of open water in the borough.

    Please do object to this. It’s one thing putting up an unsightly grille as a temporary measure until the structure can be made sound, but this is quite clearly intended as a permanent measure. It looks absolutely awful and is totally unjustified.

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Thursday, Jul 1, 2021 @ 17:25

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