The classic Penarth mansion “The Highlands” – occupies a commanding position on Cogan Hill  overlooking Cardiff Bay and the River Ely  at the “Gateway to Penarth”

Despite the objections of the Ancient Monuments Society, the objections of the Victorian Society,  and even the objections of the Vale of Glamorgan’s own Conservation Officer – the Vale Council’s planners  are recommending the demolition of  Penarth’s most spectacular mansion –  “The Highlands”.

The Vale Council’s Conservation Officer has stated that “the building would seem to meet the criteria for inclusion as a locally listed ‘County Treasure’.” – but it appears he has been over-ruled by his own planning colleagues.

A view from the garden showing one wing of The Highlands and the unique turret providing a panoramic view from the highest point of land in the Cogan area

The Labour-controlled Vale Council seems certain this week to give the go-ahead to tear down The Highlands. The planning application to demolish The Highlands and develop a 9 new detached houses on the site will come before Vale of Glamorgan councillors in Planning Committee on Thursday this week .

However the official recommendation now given to councillors by the Vale Council’s Planning Department is likely to ensure the destruction of yet another of Penarth’s Victorian architectural treasures.

The Highlands stands in its own secluded grounds on the highest point of land in Cogan (Google Earth image)

The Vale Planning Department argues that the building is “not statutorily listed[ i.e. it doesn’t have legal protection – very probably because it’s been screened by trees (now felled)  – and has been almost invisible until recent months ]. 

The heavily-criticised Welsh preservation body “Cadw[ Welsh for “Keep“]  was asked to consider the building for “spot listing”. It decided that  “whilst there is some local significance and interest, this does not extend to national significance”. Cadw – which is totally controlled by the Welsh Labour Government – claims it “helps people understand and care about their place and history – and the place of Wales in the world.”

The “tourelle” of “The Highlands” gives an unrivalled view over the River Ely and Cardiff Bay

The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Planners also argue that The Highlands  is not listed as a “County Treasure”  –[ i.e. not on the list of architectural “treasures” in the Vale of Glamorgan – an arbitrary list which was drawn up many years ago] and point out that it the mansion does not “lie within a Conservation Area” . 

Because of those factors, the planners say “there is no justification to refuse the application on the grounds of the loss of the existing building.” 

In endorsing its own  recommendation, the Vale Council’s Planning Department says that the “applicant [ Mr Simon Berni] has pointed out that the existing building is in a poor state of repair” – although the document goes on to admit “a structural survey has not been completed” . However the planners claim “an inspection shows that the property has fallen into disrepair. There were also signs of significant structural movement. Associated costs in respect of remedial repairs and refurbishment are likely to be considerable, and for some, prohibitive.”

The final decision will be made in the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s planning committee on Thursday March 30th .


About NewsNet

Penarth Daily News email address . Penarth Daily News is an independent free on-line fair and balanced news service published by NewsNet Ltd covering the town of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, UK. All our news items are based on the information we receive or discover at the time of publication and are published on the basis that they are accurate to the best of our knowledge and belief at that time. Comments posted on the site by commentators reflect their opinions and are not necessarily shared, endorsed or supported by Penarth Daily News.
This entry was posted in Penarth Daily News. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Jan Harding says:

    Mr Berni do you really wish to demolish this stunning mansion? We love it and don’t want to lose it.

    • Freddie says:

      How can a professional recommendation of this building as a “County Treasure” be ignored? If I was the Vale’s “Conservation Officer”, I’d jack it in. They’re wasting they time.

  2. Mary Edwards says:

    Yet another of the residences that (used to?) characterise Penarth and give it its unique charm and attraction is to be lost to posterity. What vandalism!

  3. Anne Greagsby says:

    A magnificent building recommended for demolition. More garden grabbing. Who is fighting to preserve our heritage? The town council has about 20 staff and not one conservation officer to help make the argument for the preservation of our special buildings and conservation areas. The vale council has just one lone conservation officer without the status to take a strong stance against the many planning officers most often in favour of these type of developments. What did the civic society have to say on this one?

    • Tom says:

      Yes, Anne, a very good question. I’d like to hear what the Civic Society has to say too.
      Where are they on this? Or anything else for that matter?
      Do they do anything?

      • Mgg says:

        OK the start of my rationale approach. in all sincerity AG notes that she is on the civic committee .thus must be in a place to make representations to the committee regarding this. Has this happened yet. ? Surely this is the action she could take. Anyone have an idea how the public can take action?

      • Anne Greagsby says:

        The civic society officers make all the decisions. I instigated a planning group. However they either refuse to comment on an application or they water it down into insignificance. The cmte voted 4 to 3 not to make any comment on Chris Loyns garden grabbing back lane development in a conservation area. My pleas to defend our heritage have all been in vain.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Go on, pull it down, get up your cheap flats, 40 pc social housing.
    I bet you come on here, loving it, looking at us frothing about an old treasure being destroyed.
    You have the power, you are in charge. You are now the big people of the world, from your two-ups and terraces, wiping out handsome symbols of the old wealth.

    • Fitz says:

      Not sure the applicant in this case hails directly from a two-up-two-down terraced house. I suspect he is a member of the Berni family of Berni Inns fame from the ’70s. If so, humble Italian beginnings were a couple of generations back. I would need to research this for confirmation but I think that property has been in their family for decades.

  5. LJS says:

    Demolishing ‘Highlands’ would be a great loss. It stands proud in a prominent position and there is no reason for it to be lost. It is a fine John Coates Carter building. Councillors and planners should be ashamed.

    • Chris B. says:

      Are you sure this is a Coates Carter design? I can find no documentation to prove this. Can you provide a link please.

  6. Ignatius O'Reilly says:

    Clearly this is a beautiful house of some local importance which ideally should be renovated to its former glory and preserved for as long as possible.
    However, as I understand it, the current owner inherited the house from his elderly grandmother who had lived there for around 50 years. The house was, and still is, dilapidated and requires around 500k to restore it to a standard befitting such a house. The owner doesn’t have that sort of money so attempted to sell it as a single dwelling (for around 700k) for someone to take on and restore. I know this because I was interested in purchasing it but it didn’t make financial sense to spend around 1.2million on a house that would only be worth around 900k once renovated.

    Clearly any other potential buyers felt the same, so the owner was left with the decision to either sell it for around 400k as a single dwelling or sell it for development for 2-3 times more.

    It’s easy to criticise the owner’s decision but how many of us would truly have chosen the first option?

    • LJS says:

      More than you may think Ignatius. Dr Paul Bridges is doing an amazing restoration on another John Coates Carter house, The Red House in Penarth, spending more on that than it is worth. I spent over £600k restoring my semi in Penarth’s conservation area, again with its purchase price, the total is way in excess of its worth.
      There are many other people who value Penarth’s Victorian heritage and look after their properties.
      I don’t remember seeing the house for sale.
      Other large dilapidated properties have sold for between £1 and £1.2 million in Penarth.
      I don’t think the owner tried very hard to sell it as a house.

      • Seth says:

        Very well said, LJS, to the people only seeing the lowest common denominator (or highest monetary gain).

      • Jack says:

        I don’t remember seeing The Highlands for sale. I’m sure somebody would buy it, someone with the refinement to restore it (preferably without embarrassing underfloor heating, wet rooms and the like) . People say they spend more on a house than it’s worth but the end result is always worth more than all amounts put together.
        Fancy letting this beautiful house go. What philistines people are.

      • Ignatius O'Reilly says:

        I agree with much of what you say. I’ve been to the Coates Carter house on Victoria Road and agree that Paul and Michelle have done a great restoration.
        But if you don’t have the money to restore, not to mention the time or inclination, the situation becomes more problematic. The owner of Highlands would have been subjected to inheritance tax and he didn’t strike me as particularly flush to start with.
        I merely want to point out that he is not a professional developer who has set out to destroy an old house in order to make a quick buck. He inherited a derelict wreck that can only be preserved if someone is prepared to write off 300-500k.
        There really aren’t that many minted philanthropists around in Penarth anymore.

    • Rhys says:

      You’ve made me chuckle Ignatius. The house would be worth £900k if restored? Best laugh I’ve had in weeks!

      • Ignatius O'Reilly says:

        Glad I made you laugh, but if you viewed it you would be better placed to comment. The house is badly configured, not as large as you’d think and location and access are less than ideal. You’d maybe get up to a million if you had a keen buyer but no more. I also think the renovation estimate of 500k is conservative given the inherent problems a neglected house of this age generally has.

  7. David Johnson says:

    This is a DISGRACE

  8. Andrew M says:

    The insanity of The Vale council strikes again…I’m sure a certain Mr Boland would be rolling his sleeves up & getting ready to do battle.

  9. Christine Denning says:

    This John Coates Carter house should be preserved. It is a Penarth landmark why is the planning department destroying so much of Penarth’so history.

  10. G says:

    I’ve created a petition for what it’s worth. Might not achieve anything, but may make them think!

  11. 92 and a social butterfly says:

    Penarth seems to be at a turning point: we can not stand back and do nothing as without investment and stewardship things decline. We could go one way and destroy our heritage and allow the town to be engulfed by development and become nothing more than somewhere on the way to Cardiff or we could look for a middle way, partnership, creative solutions and philanthropy. It seems the time to choose is now.

    • Richard says:

      Well said, I agree but nobody else seems to have noticed.
      It’s all being pulled down and what will future generations be left with?

  12. Amanda Lambourne-Jones says:

    I read the wonderful house needs repairs but this is needed as a house of the quality and history is not replaceable. This is all about Vale council wanting money for the land. On this land you can guarantee ugly structurally cheap worthless buildings will be built, while the Jewell in Penarth’s crown is standing and shining. This house should be repaired and sold or used as hotel, event or site seeing place for Penarth tourism. If they knock it down it is sheer criminal damage to me.

    • marisa says:

      as it was my late uncle and aunt’s house..have been in the recent years inside if there are repairs to be made they aren’t very big ones as they lived there all their lives and kept it going….new kitchen etc..wonderful home and i can say we may live ina ‘low classed’ country as Italy but whatever is historical here can’t be demolished..its the countries culture……they shouldn’t be allowed to do such a tremendous criminal offence to the welsh

  13. snoggerdog says:

    i hope a wildlife expert is being called in to save what wildlife can be saved,just as the breeding season is in full swing,councils are major hypos skinheading the grasses every three weeks during the spring/summer months,charles darwin turn in your grave before you get built on.

  14. John says:

    Wildlife experts? The Vale doesn’t appear to know the meaning of that – they seem to see it as an inconvenience they can ignore. Remember the railway path and them cutting a swathe through slow worms, home to owls and bats. They didn’t care a damn, just like they don’t care a damn about old buildings or keeping the town’s heritage for future generations. It’s just knock down and build build build.

  15. Richard Metcalf says:

    It may not be the ideal solution, but if this superb house has to be demolished [Penarth’s loss unfortunately], could it not be dismantled and re-erected at St Fagans Museum ? Perhaps with any remaining furniture, fittings, etc., that the owner would care to donate ? At least it is then available for future generations to appreciate.

  16. The timing of the planning committee is on the same day as Channel 4 has ‘Great British Buildings – Restoration of the year’ @8pm with the Barry Pumphouse building featured. One building saved, one lost?

  17. Arthur King says:

    It must be remembered that its not the council that is seeking to demolish but the owner, its his application. Councillors can of course refuse the application, but that can be appealed and the final decision will be made on the basis of rules set by the Welsh Government.

  18. Nincompoop says:

    Can this really be allowed to happen? If any councillors are reading this perhaps they can suggest how their constituents can get involved to try and avoid yet another piece of history being demolished.
    Mind you if the once beautiful Normandy building is anything to go by probably not much hope……. Never
    Mind I’m sure Penarth will benefit from the building of some some cheap flats, at this rate there won’t be any buildings if character left which would be a terrible shame.

  19. PoppyC says:

    Absolutely appalling. It would seem the council have already made their minds up. I don’t believe there has been any attempt to sell the property. I have kept a keen eye on Penarth’s property market for many years and have never seen this beautiful house advertised nor have I seen any signs indicating this on the Old Barry Road. If it were on the market for 700k in that location, it would have been snapped up. Obviously there is far more profit to be gained by demolishing the house and selling the land. It’s such a shame.

  20. PG says:

    Shocking to see that despite the clear wave of public opinion against this demolition the planning department are recommending the destruction of this Penarth treasure. Seems that those in the planning department are oblivious for recommending this. What is the point of having a conservation officer employed if their opinion is not taken into account.

  21. Unique N says:

    Shameful. Greed. Selfishness. Penarth has always had this kind of problem, as someone seems to be getting away with things that lower earners would not. Money talks. Morailty loses.

  22. Mj says:

    It would be advisable for Mr Ignatius OReilly to make sure of his facts before commenting on the inheritance of this property.

  23. Sion ap Gruffudd says:

    Mr O’Reilly, I suggest that it would be prudent to check your facts before putting pen to paper. Mr Berni was one of nine equal beneficiaries to the estate which included “The Highlands”. I would imagine the question of inheritance tax would be less of a problem in these circumstances.The question of whether the house was offered for sale on the open market could be readily confirmed, or otherwise, if you or Mr Berni could provide a copy of the selling agents property details and sale price.
    You have probably gathered that I am vehemently against the demolition of this lovely old house.It also makes me wonder why a developer would be interested in developing a property which you describe as having a “Location and access that are less than ideal.”

    When it’s gone; it’s gone.

  24. marisa says:

    my uncle and aunty’s home for years… sad such a beautiful building in such a wonderful envirement….

  25. Neighbour says:

    I’m afraid the Vale planning committee voted in favour of the planning application tonight. 9 for, 7 against and 3 abstentions. It’s a very sad day. Mr Berni was happy though – money more important than his family – to the point of aggression in the car park afterwards. Shame on you.

Comments are closed.