'Heritage status is making Cullompton tatty and tired'
LAWS designed to enhance a Mid Devon conservation area have had the unintended consequence of contributing to its decay, planners have been told.
Mid Devon District Council claims Cullompton town centre's heritage zone status preserves its historic features and protects them from unsympathetic development.
But Councillor Nikki Woollatt, who represents the town at district level, said planning constraints prevent people from carrying out improvements due to the extra expense and impracticality of materials specified.
Cullompton town centre became a conservation area in 2009 and the council also adopted the article four direction.
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The direction applies to residential properties in the conservation area which face a highway, waterway or open space and relates to the replacement of doors, windows, chimney stacks and other features.
Cllr Woollatt told the planning committee: "This is the third conservation area I have lived in within Mid Devon and of those areas Cullompton has the highest proportion of run-down and dilapidated properties.
"The planning difference between those areas is the article four direction in Cullompton.
"I think there is evidence to support the fact that the direction has actually contributed to a decline in character, appearance and quality as the result has in some cases been to conserve properties in a state of dilapidation.
"People do not generally set out to damage the appearance of their property and it appalls me that because of the hard line against UPVC taken by the planners, that residents who should be applauded in these times of economic hardship who have spent their savings or borrowed money to make home improvements, may be told to remove and replace them with a more expensive and high maintenance option," she added.
Cllr Woollatt said constituents often tell her the policy bans UPVC windows in preference for timber frames.
One property bound by the rules had to be fitted with timber frames at the front, against the preference of the owners, but UPVC was permitted at the back of the property, Cllr Woollatt said.
She gave a another example of preferred wooden frames at a property which rapidly deteriorate and "look tatty and run-down", despite the owners painting them regularly.
"The direction is a step too far, certainly in the way it is currently being implemented," she added.
Jonathan Guscott, head of planning and regeneration for the council, said 11 planning applications have been made in respect of developments bound by the direction and only two were invalid, one is pending and six have been granted permission. Only two were refused and no appeals have been made.
He said the direction has no impact on commercial properties and the replacement of shopfronts require planning permission.
"Officers are always willing to look at what types of windows are proposed and each are considered on their own merits," Mr Guscott said. "I understand the issue about regenerating Cullompton and I would urge the committee, when they are next in Cullompton, to look at Probert's, which has just been turned into a café-bistro.
"This is an example where restoration can take place and add real quality to the appearance and character of historic towns."