South Downs National Park accused of being ‘law unto itself’

Capron House. Picture by Louise Adams C130279-9
Capron House. Picture by Louise Adams C130279-9

THE South Downs National Park Authority has been accused as being ‘a law unto itself’ in a row over the roof at Capron House.

The criticism comes despite a condition imposed with planning permission requiring existing tiles to be reused.

New tiles have been used to reroof the historic building which have been likened to a ‘new housing development’ but the national park authority insists it has reused as many of the original tiles as possible.

Well-known Midhurst businessman Bernard Bayly slammed the national park as the new roof nears completion.

And Midhurst town councillor Colin Hughes hit out as members of the planning committee debated an application from the national park to ‘discharge’ another planning condition governing external insulation and lime render for the 1930s wing of the building.

Mr Hughes said: “I find it very difficult to accept this.

“When we were restoring Cowdray Ruins we did not have the luxury of chopping and changing according to buildings costs and we certainly were not able to duck around like this.

“I am concerned that the new tiles make Capron House look like a new housing development and I wonder what has happened to the original tiles.

“I don’t believe the South Downs National Park should be judge and jury over its own planning application – the plans they set themselves to achieve originally.

“I find it difficult that the national park can 
discharge obligations that it set itself in its original plans – obligations which presumably they felt desirable for this type of building in the first place.

“They lose credibility in terms of applications which come before them from developers in the future.

“It seems there is one law for them and one for everyone else.”

He said he could not agree to the national park’s latest application to discharge another condition without more specific details.

“They are asking us to agree to something which is so unspecific. I couldn’t possibly agree to it.

“I think we should say no.”

The application to discharge condition seven governing the insulation and render was the fourth similar application to go before town councillors.

The planning committee agreed to ask national park planners for more details of the materials proposed and for more time to debate the matter.

Acting chairman Gordon McAra said: “We have learned from the tiles just to be a little more vigilant and ask for more information.”

Hitting back at the critics of the national park authority, its planning deputy director said it was standard practice to discharge conditions.

It is also claimed very few of the old tiles could be re-used and the new tiles are as close a match as possible to the originals.

Keith Read said: “It is standard practice to impose conditions on a planning application to ensure that a planning authority retains some control as a development goes forward.

“For example, in most cases the materials are only finally agreed when building is about to start. To maintain control of the final appearance, the authority places a condition for materials to be approved at that point.

“This is called discharging conditions and we are legally required to deal with these as formal applications. There are fifteen conditions to be discharged with the South Downs Centre at Capron House and the SDNPA is consulting with Midhurst Town Council as each of these decision points is reached.”

Helene Rossiter, SDNPA’s director of corporate services said: “The old tiles on Capron House were more decayed than originally hoped and very few could be reused. They were a variety of types, having been repaired and replaced in stages in the past, with some up to 130 years old.

“Wherever possible the tiles have been saved and used on parts of the building where they will be easy to replace if they fail in the future.

“The new tiles are as close a match as possible to how the original tiles would have looked as they first began to weather and this process will continue naturally.”