In the wake of this week’s vote in Penarth Town Council to permit the demolition of the classic arts-and-crafts-style mansion “Highlands” at Cogan Hill, last night the Labour-controlled Vale of Glamorgan Council sealed the fate of the “magnificent” and “spectacular” mansion.
As usual – the councillors tied themselves up in procedural knots. They prioritised impermeable planning regulations and implacable “officers’ recommendations” rather than concentrating on the main issue: – exactly what kind of Penarth do they intend hand-on to future generations?
Planning chief Victoria Robinson said Highlands was “a substantial Victorian property” and “quite a prominent building” that could be seen “from quite significant distances” approaching Penarth from Cardiff and Cardiff Bay .
The proposal before the Vale planning committee was to demolish Highlands and build 11 new dwellings on the site – 8 of which would be detached houses and 3 of which would be a terrace of “affordable housing” – 2 of which would be regarded in perpetuity as “social housing” .
Ms Robinson said objections to the scheme had been received from local residents, from the Victorian Society and the Ancient Monuments Society. She said the building was not “listed” and not designated as one of the Vale of Glamorgan’s “County Treasures” [PDN Note:It has already been established that this omission was because at the time of compilation of the County Treasures – the building was masked by trees and not known about].
Ms Robinson said that the Vale Council’s own conservation officer had suggested that Highlands potentially merited inclusion on the County Treasure list but there was little point in listing it now – and the building had no statutory protection. She said the council had “no powers to resist the demolition of the existing house”.
Previous planning applications for developments on Old Barry Road – the cul-de-sac ion which Highlands stands have come unstuck because of objections from the Vale Highways engineers – but this time – even though there’ll be several more cars emerging onto the A 4055 – they’ve not objected and are to improve the Old Barry Road junction at the developer’s expense. The Vale highways officers – Ms Robinson said – “do not consider there is highway safety issue”.
A so-called “Section 106” contribution – in this case a cash sum of £7,650 – will be paid by the developer to the Vale Council towards “the existing play facilities at Cogan Leisure Centre”.
Two local residents – Mr and Mrs Honeybone – who live with their autistic son next door to the Highlands appeared in person at the planning committee to make an impassioned plea for the peace and quiet of the area not to be disrupted. Mrs Honeybone – comforted by her husband – was in tears for part of her emotional address.
Vale Planning Officer Victoria Robinson told the Honeybones “It would not be reasonable for us to refuse an otherwise-acceptable development on the issue of noise and disturbance for a particularly sensitive end-user. We should not be taking into account the acute personal circumstances of the occupier of the neighbouring property. “
Cllr Peter King (Labour Cornerswell) said he was concerned at the “cumulative effect” . Highlands – he said – was “certainly a very magnificent an impressive building. I think it does deserve some greater consideration, it is visible from some distance and from both sides . On the objections received, he said that “regardless of the officers’ comments we still need to weigh those up” . He said he would be voting against the proposal.
Cllr John Drysdale (Labour) who had visited the site that morning and did not think Highlands was “wonderful“, said of the traffic on the A4055 “it’s like a chariot race when the lights change” but he thought emerging onto the main road was “do-able”. On the overall scheme Cllr Drysdale said “We have no choice really but to approve” .
Val Hartrey (Plaid Cymru) wasn’t so sure. She said there could be up to 30 additional cars now emerging every morning onto the A4055 . “ It is a speed track “- her daughter had been hit by another car at the same spot. She said she was “appalled“ at the application to demolish Highlands . She had lived locally for 45 years and described Highlands as a prominent building and could not see “why it could not be listed at this late date” .
Cllr Gwyn Roberts (Labour St Augustine’s) accepted that the council had “no right to protect Highlands” – but “that doesn’t stop us being responsible for the heritage of the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan and we have our responsibility to society“. He asked whether a reduction in the number of new houses on the site could make the retention of the old house viable. He didn’t get an answer until much later in the proceedings when he was told that it was not the proposal before the committee .
It was Cllr Jeff James (Conservative Rhoose) who ripped into the Vale Council most effectively for its abject failure – by omission and commission – to protect the heritage of Penarth.
Cllr James said said “It’s a sad day when the planning committee feels it can do nothing else but go along with an application to demolish the property.”
He said it was also sad that the council had “not noticed” the Highlands much earlier. “It’s a prominent property – there are many in the Penarth area – and slowly they’re going. A drip-drip-drip of significant properties in the Penarth area – being demolished or changed in such a way as to be unrecognisable”
Cllr James said “What we ought to do as a planning committee is to review some of these significant buildings in the Vale before they’re all gone.” The new houses being put in their place had “no merit compared with the house that’s going to be demolished” . He would be voting against the application .
Cllr Lis Burnett (Labour St Augustines) – who was to vote in favour of demolishing Highlands – said Penarth had “a lot of houses which have been allowed to go to rack and ruin in order to push the planning agenda” . If the application was refused – and went to appeal – and the council lost the appeal she said it was “arguably putting the Section 106 contribution at risk ” [ i.e the £7,650 cash and the 3 “affordable” homes] .
Cllr Burnett dismissed the arguments on traffic, – saying said she too lives on a busy road and “I quite often sit in my drive for 5 minutes trying to get out through the traffic. It’s one of the pressures of modern life”.
In the vote that followed Cllr Burnett was one of 9 Labour councillors who voted – en bloc- FOR of the demolition of Highlands and the housing development. There were 7 votes AGAINST and 3 ABSTENTIONS .
Afterwards one insider said that if the councillors who had abstained had possessed the bottle to vote against the application – and against Labour – it would have been defeated.
It seems the “dripping tap” – referred to by Cllr Jeff James – which is slowly destroying Penarth’s heritage – has yet to be turned off.