Bitter planning war over historic house

Stanley Mackintosh outside his Kirkgate property in Ripon.
Stanley Mackintosh outside his Kirkgate property in Ripon.

The owner of an iconic Ripon building is embroiled in a bitter planning dispute with the borough council over proposed internal alterations to the property.

Stanley Mackintosh – who lives in Grade II listed St Margaret’s House on Kirkgate – has now formally complained over his treatment by Harrogate Borough Council, accusing it of arbitrary enforcement of planning rules and conducting a vendetta.

The former civil engineer moved into the property in 2002 and wants to change the internal layout of the former bookshop to create a self-contained annex with rentable rooms to provide him with a retirement income as part of a house share.

“I now consider the conduct of Harrogate Borough Council to have been improper and mendacious towards me over more than ten years,” Mr Mackintosh told the Gazette.

In a letter sent to Harrogate Borough Council on February 10, Mr Mackintosh said officers had “arbitrarily enforced listed building and conservation area restrictions upon some property owners but allowed blatant infractions on other favoured owners”.

But Mr Mackintosh, who has a diploma in civil and structural engineering and said housing renovation has been his “life-long hobby”, told the Gazette he has the knowledge and experience to sensitively restore St Margaret’s House.

“I am confident that my ongoing sympathetic restoration and improvement works to this property – which is my home – are of a nature that do not require listed building consent,” he said.

Mr Mackintosh initially wanted to divide off part of the property – which in past times has formed separate dwellings – and sell it, but a planning application for the proposal was refused in late 2005. Deciding “to take what ever positives” he could from the affair, he devised the new plan to create the self-contained annex.

Under section 7 of the Planning (Listed Building and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, it is an offence to carry out work to a listed building if it affects its character “as a building of special architectural or historical interest”.

But Mr Mackintosh argues his work does not affect the property’s character and dismisses Harrogate Borough Council’s threats of civil action against him if he does not cease work on the property. He says the council should be bold enough to threaten criminal action against him and they have “taken the coward’s way out” by threatening civil litigation.

“I am confident in my position but I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said, adding it would be an “irresponsible waste of public funds” to take him to court.

In support of his belief council officers are arbitrarily enforcing planning rules Mr Mackintosh points to other listed buildings on Kirkgate, saying he has informed the council about how they contravene the rules yet the local authority chooses to ignore them.

Mr Mackintosh also says there is a bigger problem with planning law which needs to be revised.

“There is a wider issue concerning weaknesses on the relevant statute and in its interpretation by planning departments nationwide – weaknesses which I believe should be addressed constructively for the public good, as well as especially to protect owners of listed buildings from exploitation,” he said.

When the Gazette approached Harrogate Borough Council about Mr Mackintosh’s claims, a spokesman said: “We have received the letter from Mr Mackintosh and it is being dealt with in the department concerned and under the council’s normal complaint procedures.”