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Professional experts criticise Council over ‘Roman’ Bath

The retrospective planning application (case ref HS/LB/20/00805), for Listed Building Consent to disfigure a Grade 2 listed building in Summerfields Wood has provoked indignation among heritage organisation experts as well as locals. The galvanised steel gates, plates and a grille in the ‘Roman’ Bath archway and lower bath area are already there however. Bernard McGinley reports.

The treatment of the ‘Roman’ Bath in Summerfields Wood was reported here on 1 July.  

The grotto/folly is an early-Victorian version of a Roman Bath, made as a feature of the grounds of Bohemia House. The Grade 2 citation has more.

On 16 July Sussex Gardens Trust (SGT) wrote to HBC:

The structures installed without planning permission have undoubtedly caused substantial visual harm to the Grade II ‘Roman’ bath-house and also to the setting of the locally listed Summerfields Estate (formally known as Bohemia Estate). 

They added pointedly:

It is unfortunate that maintenance of the ‘Roman’ bath-house over many years has been inadequate and as a result the structure and the protection around it have fallen into disrepair. The health and safety problems encountered could have been anticipated and avoided, indeed SGT has several times advised on this and even offered to fund a small grant to help address the issues.

The ‘Roman’ bath-house is a Grade II registered building located within the Summerfields Estate, which is a Locally Listed Heritage Asset. Given these heritage designations, the National Planning Policy Framework imposes statutory requirements on the applicant (HBC) and the Local Planning Authority (also HBC). Planning Approval should have been sought before work was undertaken; when the application was submitted the accompanying Heritage Statement should have included an Assessment of the Significance of the Baths and the effect of the galvanised structures on this Significance. Finally, HE and the Gardens Trust should have been consulted in a timely manner with adequate time to respond before any decision is taken.

Statutory adviser advises

Historic England (formerly English Heritage, and formally the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) was no less scathing. In a letter of 23 July finally published on 10 August, an Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas wrote:

Historic England consider that the introduction of these large galvanised metal structures causes a high level of harm to the significance of the listed Roman bath. 

The many ways in which the Council were in breach of central government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) were mentioned. HE continued:

We agree with the Sussex Gardens Trust (SGT) that the introduced metal gates and grill are entirely unsympathetic to the appearance of the sandstone ‘Roman’ bathhouse and its setting. We understand the issues around safety to the public however a more sensitive and sympathetic way of protecting the bath house until it has been repaired and made safe should have been explored and implemented. We therefore do not think that these protection measures should remain in place and especially for any lengthy period of time given the level of harm they are causing.

We recommend that the local authority, as a responsible owner of a listed structure, should start a programme to investigate and implement the necessary repairs that required to preserve its condition and appearance. We note that the SGT has offered to work with Hastings Borough Council to help find better short-term and longer-term solutions to meet health and safety requirements and enhance heritage value. They have also explained that they may be able to offer some potential grant funding to undertake a costed conditions survey. Following this a phased programme of repair work should then be carried out to firstly undertake the most urgent repairs first so the structure can be made safe and then the repairs needed to restore the listed building to its original condition where it can be a real asset to the town. 

Procedural confusion

HBC’s treatment of its own asset here has been pitiful. Basic conservation and procedure has been trashed. As the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) states:

                  It is a criminal offence not to seek  consent and to undertake works without the required consent.  Ignorance of a building’s listed status is not a defence to any criminal proceedings. It is also not possible to offer the defence that works would have been permitted if they had been applied for.

The application’s Heritage Statement is defective, lacking an Assessment of the Significance of the Roman Bath, and the effect of the galvanised structures on this Significance. The Design & Access Statement is also clearly inadequate. All that the HBC Estates Manager has to say about the application is:

Estates support this application. 

The Planning Committee will consider the case possibly on Wednesday 15 September. Comments can still be made therefore.

Retrospective planning applications are a legal but disreputable mechanism. They also corrupt the planning system and encourage others to do likewise. Developers know that the local authority enforcement is weak and ineffectual. Recent cases at Rocklands and Ore (HS/FA/20/00470 and HS/FA/21/00712) show this well. It seems unlikely that HBC will prosecute itself for its bungling and vandalism.   

The last word should go to the Sussex Gardens Trust:

Conclusion 

SGT finds the utilitarian, brightly coloured galvanised gates and grid entirely unsympathetic to the sandstone ‘Roman’ bath-house and its setting. It is hard to imagine an uglier solution. For this reason, SGT objects to the application being approved. 

 

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Posted 19:44 Monday, Aug 16, 2021 In: Home Ground

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