A guide to making a planning application

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR OF A LISTED BUILDING WITH THATCH.

Guidance for Owners and Thatchers in writing a planning application for re-thatching.

Before considering whether any proposed work on a thatched property requires consent, owners should be aware of the undated Historic England A guide to Owners of listed Buildings, reference to “a relatively new process which allows you to find out if proposed work to your home needs listed building consent or not.  If not, then a Certificate of Lawfulness will provide clear evidence that the work to be carried out will not require consent.” The advice continues to remind owners that “you may also have trouble selling a property which has not be granted listed building consent or a Certificate of Lawfulness for work carried out, as the lack of permission will be revealed by the legal search.”

On 25th February 2016 Historic England (HE) published a new “Advice Note 2: Making Changes to Heritage Assets”. This is the third change in the past twenty years, and replaces PPG15 and PPS5 and will impact directly on the care, repair and maintenance of thatched roofs.  The relevant paragraph relating to rethatching is on page 3. Par.12. it states:

“Replacement of one material by another may harm significance and will in those cases need clear justification.  Therefore while the replacement of an inappropriate and non-original material on a roof, for example, is likely to be easily justified, more justification will be needed for changes from one type of thatch, slate or tile to another or for changes in the way the material is processed applied and detailed.”

Because of the relatively ambiguous nature of this statement, clarification has been provided in two enquiry response letters from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), which might help thatchers and owners when making a case to local authority conservation officers (LACOs).

 “HE’s advice is expressed in terms that are firmly conditional, therefore following Government policy in the National Planning Policy Framework.  HE does not absolutely rule out the use of any kind of roof covering on any listed building but simply points out that the replacement of one material with another may harm significance.  This does not affect the replacement of a roof material where that replacement is genuinely like-for-like.”

The second response states that: “Normally, a conservation officer would only insist on reversing a change of thatching material if that change had been undertaken without listed building consent. It is important to bear in mind that even if a change from one type of material to another might be justified, listed building consent is still needed for such work. If consent was not obtained prior to carrying out work on a listed building, it is quite common for a conservation officer to invite the owner to make a retrospective application, and only if they fail to do so, or if the application is subsequently refused, would enforcement action be considered.”

It is becoming apparent that any work to a thatched roof other than very routine maintenance is going to require, at the minimum, a discussion with the conservation officer and the issuing of a Certificate of Lawfulness. In more extensive work a formal application may be required and in cases where the whole roof is involved also a meeting with the local authority building control officer.

There appears to be a growing trend for some conservation officers to try to insist on a change of thatching material and ridge style, irrespective of what is currently on the roof (it is thought this might be as a consequence of the second sentence in the HE advice note). LACO proposed change is often justified by a belief that in the past the roof would have been thatched with a different material or thatching style. Owners should take advice from their thatchers as to the most appropriate material for the roof, when a change is being recommended by a LACO.

The HE Advice note 2 is as applicable to LACO as it is to owners and thatchers.  LACO also need to follow the same evidence based process as thatchers and their customers, in decision making.  There must be transparency and accountability throughout the process, with the evidence behind their policy making both published and readily accessible.  In this way, thatchers and owners can have full confidence in the reasons why – or be provided with sufficient information when they need to challenge decisions.   It is also important for each local council to demonstrate a thatch policy, which has been open to consultation and subsequently approved.

When faced with the need to seek listed building consent it is important to remember that Historic England’s policy is only advice and guidance.  Getting into an argument with the conservation officer can be frustrating and counter-productive; a carefully researched application will mean that the LACO has to convince a planning committee or inspector that his reasons are valid and that the previous re-thatch constituted a breach of listed building consent.

Writing an application for listed building consent to replace a thatched roof with like-for-like material and style

In the present climate it is very unlikely that permission will be given for a change of material.  To meet the Historic England (HE) objectives in applying for listed building consent it will be important to gather evidence and to present it in an acceptable planning format.

  • Discuss scope of proposed work with Local Authority Conservation Officer (LACO).

Have the recommendation of your thatcher and the work they are proposing showing detail of anticipated preparation of the roof and materials to be used. Ask for a Certificate of Lawfulness. If this has already been tried and has failed, an application for planning will need to be pursued. Details of email exchanges and letters can be included in your application.

  • Desk based research. Find out about the history of your property to which will help to establish its ‘significance’. The information gathered and presented in this document should be available through local recorded history. Records of your property can be obtained from local council offices, details of listing are to be found on the Historic England website. If the property is well known in the area, there may be pictures and descriptions in magazines and local history papers. Local people are a great source of local history and information.
  • Check local plans, for evidence based policies. A web search of the local District Council site may show a local plan with specific reference to thatch.  It is advisable to ask the conservation officer for a copy as if it exists this is an important policy document that will have weight in a dispute.  If available, it will be dated and show public consultation dates and acceptance.
  • Reference to other buildings with thatch in the immediate area
  • Talk to the local Authority Building Control Officer. This is particularly important as often the extent of the repairs needed, on supporting roof structures, are unknown, until thatch is removed.  It will be necessary to negotiate a review process into the planning permission.

WHAT IS SIGNIFICANCE?

General guidance regarding significance, postulates that historical significance is the process used to evaluate what was significant about selected events, people, and developments in the past Historians use different sets of criteria to help make judgements about significance.  It is a difficult concept because it can be challenging in both an historical and contemporary context.  A heritage asset is a building in its environment together with its social history, where the views of local people are important.

Historic England’s, Managing Significance In Decision –Taking In The Historic Environment: Historic Environment Good Practice Advice In Planning: 2 States;

“Heritage assets may be affected by direct physical change or by change in their setting. Being able to properly assess the nature, extent and importance of the significance of a heritage asset and the contribution of its setting early in the process is very important to an applicant in order to conceive of and design a successful development and to the local planning authority in order to make decisions in line with legal requirements and the objectives of the development plan and the policy requirements of the NPPF.”

The reality is that in the present climate and for each property where there is a problem with LACO the owner and thatcher will need to be able to show a history of the property and the material used to thatch it.

REFERENCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Historic England: Advice note2: Making Changes to Heritage Assets. (February 2016)

Historic England: A guide to Owners of listed Buildings

Historic England: Managing Significance in Decision-Taking in the Historic Environment (2015).

Sanders M and Angold R E: Thatches and Thatching a handbook for owners and conservators Chapter 9 Conservation and Planning Issues, Page 114 – 120. (2012)

SPAB: The Care and Repair of Thatch edition 1.

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