Council under fire over plan to raze schoolroom

KIRKLEES Council has been slammed for approving plans to demolish a historic building in a conservation area – after it looked at photographs of a completely different building.

Wednesday, 17th February 2010, 9:54 am
Updated Friday, 19th February 2010, 8:20 am

The council has been heavily criticised by Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex for allowing Gomersal Methodist Church's Victorian schoolroom, in Latham Lane, to be demolished and replaced by four houses.

Several residents, including Jane Newland who ran a Brownies group in the schoolroom, complained to the Ombudsman over the decision. This led on to an official investigation which found 'serious flaws' in how the council dealt with the application.

The report said council planners failed to inform the Heavy Woollen Planning Sub-Committee on key issues, including showing it 24 photographs of a different dilapidated building – instead of the 19th Century schoolroom next to the chapel.

Mrs Newland said: "After the decision in January 2007, we immediately raised the issue of 'error in law' with the Secretary of State who, after receiving reassurance that all was well from the council, decided not to pursue our complaint.

"We then approached the Ombudsman to confirm our views that the council was guilty of maladministration throughout the proceedings.

"A sympathetic conversion of the schoolroom as one home or one office would be much better."

The church hoped to use the money from the sale of the schoolroom and nearby caretaker's building to fund repair and refurbishment work at the Grade II listed chapel, known locally as the Pork Pie Chapel.

The church's circuit property representative, John Woosey, said: "The idea was to raise the money to improve the facilities available at the chapel, to provide a refreshment making area and an open space on the ground floor for activities and meetings.

"It's public knowledge that there's another planning application that will be considered soon that leaves the building intact."

The new application to convert the building into five homes is expected to go before the committee in the next few months.

Coun Paul Kane, who is chairman of the sub-committee, said: "I am concerned with the findings of the Ombudsman and the failings of the information that was presented to the committee at that time.

"The committee makes decisions on the information presented to it and cases like this are extremely rare."

A council spokesman added: "We accept the Ombudsman's findings and, since this application was handled, we have made changes to some of our planning processes. Ways of dealing with planning applications and consents which relate to the area's heritage have been tightened up.

"We also have more effective management of case officers and have strengthened our links with partners such as English Heritage."