Cllr Roger Mathew's Current Issues Page

This is where I hope to bring you current issues on which you can feed back your views. I do not promise to agree with you: this would clearly be impossible, since different people will have radically divergent views. If I have time, and if I have some feedback to encourage me, this page will grow as new issues emerge.
Feel free to email me if you have an issue that you would like me to air or have a comment on anything that I have written. I'll publish and link comments of reasonable length, provided they are not offensive or defamatory. You don't have to agree with me - in fact, it will be more interesting if you do not. I shall feel free to comment on your comments. This is an experiment in interactive representation.
NB Views expressed here are my own. They do not necessarily represent either the views or the policy of any of the councils mentioned.

January 2004 Gulworthy Road Closure
June 2003: AGM appointments: party political sour grapes?
On this page: The Milton Abbot Peace Window (April 03)
Old issues: The Bedford Square controversy (1996-98)


The Milton Abbot Peace Window

Second Application Succeeds 1 April 03

On Tuesday, 12 November 2002, West Devon Borough Council's Planning Committee considered an application from Milton Abbot County Primary School to alter a window in their Grade II listed schoolhouse to incorporate a circular glass "peace" window, involving the removal of a central wooden mullion.
Here's a picture of the school, as it is now
(click the pic to see it at full size)
And this is what it would look like with the new window
(click the pic to see it at full size)

Here's a close-up of the window
(click the pic to see it at full size)
And this is what the "peace window" would look like
(click the pic to see it at full size)

Planning Law

Planning committees operate under planning law, which is fairly prescriptive about what we can and cannot do. Where Listed Buildings are involved, the duty of a planning committee is very clear: we have to consider whether a proposed development will conserve or enhance the character and appearance of the listed building and are required to refuse Listed Building Consent unless we think that it will.

The key point here is that the merit of the development in itself is not something we can consider. All that we can consider is the effect on the character and appearance of the existing building. It matters not a whit whether we think the window is beautiful or ugly: we can neither refuse it for being ugly nor allow it for being beautiful. We have to consider only whether it looks "right" in the context of the rest of the building and, because part of the existing window (the central mullion) has to be removed, whether the loss of that feature is "right" in the context of the rest of the building.

The Sky Descended

The planning committee's decision to refuse consent has generated a great deal of flak, most of which has sedulously avoided the issues of Listed Buildings and their protection. There now seems to be a publicity campaign under way to persuade the committee to change its mind, largely on basis that a peace window is such a good thing in itself that it ought to be allowed regardless of planning issues. Top

Enhanced or not?

The striking feature of the Milton Abbot school building is that it is rectangular. Apart from the arches over the main entrance and atop some of the windows, there is scarcely a curve to be seen. It is difficult to see how a proposal to insert a circular element very prominently into the front of the building can be in keeping with its existing character or appearance.

Original or what?

The existing window is not as it was originally built. An argument has developed that, because the lower half of the window has lost its original glazing bars (probably in the 1930s and certainly before the building was listed), it doesn't matter if what remains is replaced with the peace window.
In planning terms, that is not a valid argument, because a building is listed as it is. Listed Building Consent would be required to restore it to its original form. This may seem crazy - and it is almost certain that such an application would be granted - but that is the law.

Do you have a view?

Whilst it is the planning committee's job to determine applications, it would be interesting to know what people think. If you have a view that you would like to share via this site, email me and I'll publish views via a link from this page.

Relevant issues could be:

Update (15 Feb 03) and Link to Milton Abbot school's site

If you want to see the case being put by the applicants, click here.
I have invited them to put a reciprocal link to this site, in the interests of balance.

I have seen some sketches of the revised plans. It would be wrong of me to comment on them before the professional planning and conservation officers had made a balanced judgement and reported it to committee, as I am not a qualified planner: my job as planning chairman is to ensure that everyone's views are fairly presented and that members of the committee are in no doubt about what are the planning issues and their degrees of freedom within planning law and policy before making decisions.

If the revised plans are more acceptable - whether or not enough to get consent next time - then I think that fully justifies my committee's decision to refuse the application at the November meeting. What do you think?

16 January 2003
Updated 15 February 2003
Pictures copyright © 2002 Roger Mathew Top

Second Application Succeeds

Pix taken from the Peace Window publicity site.

On 1 April 2003, the Planning Committee considered a revised application.

The issues were the same, but the balance of the decision had altered because of two factors:

  • the design of the window's setting had been changed and
  • the application included restoring the sister-window to its original state, with a full set of glazing bars.
The new design was a considerable improvement on that applied for in November. Whilst the circular window still jars with the rectilinear form of the building and the central mullion is still lost - factors that led the County Council's Historic Buildings Advisor to support the Borough Conservation Officer's recommendation to refuse the application - the spandrels (triangular glazing to fill the corners) and wooden framing lighten the effect compared with the previous design.

Additionally, restoring the bottom half of sister-window from its early-20th century hopper-opening to its original wooden glazing provided the committee with a quid pro quo: this improvement could be weighed against any perceived detriment arising from introducing the "alien" circular element into the Peace Window.

Although the planning officers' views were that the overall effect of the application was still detrimental to the appearance of the listed building - in my view a perfectly correct professional view, fully justifying their recommendation - the committee decided that, on balance, the revised application was acceptable. I reminded them that the test they ought to apply is whether they would allow the application if the window were a Coca Cola logo by an artist of the standing of (say) David Hockney; the point being that it is the appearance of the development, not its content or purpose, that we had a duty under planning law to consider. That's my job.

Whether the committee was right in its decision or whether it accepted a fig-leaf to get it off the hook of improper political pressure to agree for the wrong reasons to something that it ought to have resisted is a matter of opinion and judgement. If you have a view, I am prepared to publish it as feedback, as long as it isn't defamatory. So far, only one person has emailed me a comment (on 28 April 03).

Top 2 April 2003
Updated 28 June, 14 Nov 03 and 25 Jan 04

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