Changes to councillor’s Old Somerby dovecote ‘unauthorised’

The listed Dovecote
The listed Dovecote
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A longstanding councillor carried out “unauthorised” work on his listed property, a council investigation has found.

Peter Stephens undertook the work on the dovecote of the historic Manor House in the village of Old Somerby.

Coun Peter Stephens

Coun Peter Stephens

The Conservative member for Lincrest blames his architect and the builders for several breaches of an earlier planning approval, saying they were both reputable and experienced in historic properties and they were left to get on with it.

Members of the SKDC development and management committee agreed to an officer recommendation that the unauthorised changes be allowed to remain. An attempt to force Coun Stephens to replace wood cladding on part of the Dovecote with stone, as originally approved, was narrowly lost.

The committee meeting heard from assistant planning officer Craig Dickinson that the application, including a listed building consent, stemmed from “an enforcement case.”

“It (the work) was not built in accordance with the planning application,” he said.

South Kesteven District Council had consented in 2016 to the dovecote being converted into ancillary accomodation and a carport be built.

The main issues, he said, was the change in the use of materials and a ridge being built a metre higher than originally consented.

The changes from the consented plans were “very minor”, he continued, and would not harm the listed building or impact on neighbours.

Sylvia Bland, service manager development and implementation, confirmed: “Coun Stephens has not committed any offence or crime. It’s an enforcement case as the officer went out after we received an enquiry from a neighbouring resident that the building wasn’t as agreed.

“He (Coun Stephens) ceased work as soon as he became aware. He sought to regularise the position by putting the application in front of you.”

Coun Stephens, who has been a councillor since 2007, was not present in the council chamber, but his wife Veronica Stephens told the meeting: “In our original approval, we used a totally reputable builder. We totally relied on their expertise. We were totally unaware we were outside our planning application.”

With the revised plans, she added they kept the same architect, but “not surprisingly, we are using new builders.”

However, Labour member Phil Dilks said he was “concerned” members were sitting in judgement against a councillor they knew, and he might not get a fair hearing.

“It’s the first one I have come across for an enforcement case, for building not as approved.”

Coun Dilks later said he feared SKDC would be setting a precedent if the work was allowed to remain.

“What happens down the road when we are deciding on someone else who may not be a councillor. They will turn around and say ‘but you did it for a councillor.’”

Coun Robert Reid (Con) said: “It is with sadness we have to sit here listening to an enforcement situation.”

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) said: “It’s clumsy at best that a district councillor is having this action brought against him. I would hope there’s a terse email to councillors (telling them) to watch what is going on. It’s a significant investment for a councillor and family concerned in part of a conservation area.”

Coun Rosemary Kaberry-Brown said that the works not done “as originally sold to us” was “a refection on us all.”

Committee chairman Coun Martin Wilkins said the committee could insist Coun Stephens replace the wood cladding with the originally consented stone, something Mr Dickinson said was possible without damaging the dovecote.

Coun Judy Stevens (Ind) said timber cladding can 
look nice, but she favoured stone.

However, an amendment to force some wood cladding be replaced with stone was lost seven to five votes, with members voting 10-two to back the new application.

A district council report said when the work was done to Coun Stephen’s dovecote, it was brought to the council’s attention the conversion was not as approved.

The report stated: “The differences include a differing arrangement of windows, doors and rooflights, as well as an increase in ridge height of the side extension.

“During consideration of the amended application, it was noted there were some inaccuracies in the submitted plans and that they did not reflect the development as built. The applicant submitted amended plans to correct these inaccuracies on officer advice.”

Old Somerby Parish Council described Coun Stephen’s home as “architecturally one of the more important properties in the village, and its listed status reflects that.

“The council’s view would be that the original planning requirements should be followed. We also agree that the height discrepancy and window size changes should be investigated.

“There may be a reason why the current building differs from the original plan, but council members are struggling to think of one that would justify some fundamental and important differences.”

It called on SKDC to look at the observations from neighbour Peter Burrows before recommending: “that the terms of the original, agreed planning application should be adhered to, unless there is a compelling reason to change them.”

The report added SKDC received eight letters of objection to the amended plans, citing harm to the character of a listed building. Opponents argued SKDC should not support a retrospective planning application, noting the applicant is a district councillor who had previously objected to a neighbour’s proposals.

The report recommended approval as the work was ‘sympathetic’ to the character of the building.

It added the retrospective nature of the application was not an issue and neither was the applicant being a councillor.