Letter: Plastic windows on a listed building

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report and leading article (24 August) present an emotive and one-sided account of South Somerset District Council's handling of Mr and Mrs Green's plastic windows, and of the conservation issues concerned.

The district council has a duty, prescribed by Parliament, to protect the character and appearance of listed buildings within its district. It considers, in accordance with government advice, that the installation of plastic windows in Forge House, Whitelackington, detracts from its historic character. That opinion was upheld by the Department of the Environment inspectors who dealt with the Greens' planning appeals. It was also the view of the chairman of the local branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England when consulted at the time of the Greens' original planning application.

The district council was made aware at the time of the Greens' appeal against refusal of consent that they were unable to afford to reinstate traditional windows and therefore it offered to arrange for the work to be done to pay for 30 per cent of the cost and to give an interest-free loan to cover the balance. The Greens declined this offer and preferred that the council serve an enforcement notice so that they could appeal again. This appeal was also dismissed.

Having exhausted the possibilities for appeal, the Greens finally accepted the council's offer of help and the hand-made oak windows are soon to be installed by a local joiner. The council has taken possession of the Greens' deeds as security for the loan, in the same way that a commercial mortgagee does.

This case raises wider conservation issues. Clearly, there are differences of opinion in matters of taste and there will always be those who object to the principle of conservation, but much of this opposition stems from lack of information. In most cases traditional buildings can be repaired and upgraded to provide cost-effective modern standards of performance in a way that does not destroy their historic character. What most owners of listed buildings need is sound advice about the care of their buildings, which conservation staff at the district council will happily provide.

Yours faithfully,

ALISON HENRY

Historic Buildings Advisor

South Somerset District Council

Yeovil

25 August

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