AN Easter Ross householder living "under a huge shadow" after being publicly rapped over improvements to his conservation area home wants an apology for the "vindictive" way he was treated.
A national planning officer rejected Highland Council’s reasons for turning down alterations carried out at the Esther Place property in Tain owned by Rob Parkes, even though it was done in a conservation area without planning permission.
The town’s community council was critical of Highland Council’s "heavy-handed" approach after a committee ruled by a single vote that his retrospective application be refused – sparking his successful appeal to the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA).
The issue has prompted calls for clarity over the boundaries of conservation areas across Ross-shire as many householders are unaware they live within them, and are therefore subject to much stricter planning requirements.
Mr Parkes resized the ground floor windows at the front of the Georgian-era property to their original dimensions and repointed the front using natural lime mortar. He fitted white uPVC windows contrary to planning rules for conservation areas – although a supportive statement noted that even close up, it is difficult to tell the difference. He also erected a lean-to wooden extension to the rear.
The issue divided councillors at a planning committee meeting and Mr Parkes was defended by local member Alasdair Rhind, who praised the stone repairs to what had been a near-derelict building. He added that Mr Parkes had not known it was a conservation area. There was a 7-6 vote to refuse retrospective planning permission with Councillor Angela MacLean describing the work carried out as "sacrilege" in such an area.
Planning reporter Elspeth Cook of the DPEA reversed the council’s decision to refuse Mr Parkes’ retrospective planning application.
In her written findings, said she had to consider the impact on Tain Conservation Area and the amenity of the surrounds, and said: "I find the development, whilst not enhancing, would preserve the character and appearance of the Tain Conservation Area."
Mr Parkes said he has been "totally vindicated" and said his family had been subjected to eight months of anxiety and uncertainty since the issue first came to light.
He said: "The appeal report found in my favour in every single aspect. The only condition placed on me is that I agree the colour of my shed with the council. Read into that what you like.
"What a waste of time, effort, money and stress all this has been. It makes a mockery of the whole process. I just want to see people with this sort of authority use it wisely rather than in a vindictive way. It’s almost inhuman. I’m lucky in that I am surrounded by people who are kind and knowledgeable."
He said there had been "a huge shadow" hanging over him for the past eight months.
Tain Community Council chairman David MacDonald said: "I think it is a sensible outcome in the circumstances and a well-reasoned argument on the part of the DPEA, justifying the community council’s support.
"It is a decision that will come as a great relief to the Parkes family who might have suffered significant hardship had they been obliged to follow the Highland Council line of reinstatement of the works carried out. It could be argued the council need to be more proactive in getting their conservation message across to the public so folk are more aware of conservation area boundaries and the planning obligations they carry."
A Highland Council spokesperson said: "We note the reporter’s decision. While we are disappointed with the findings and interpretation of policy, we will consider the implications. We would remind anyone buying a property to check to see if it is listed, or within a conservation area before doing so and contact the planning authority if they are considering alterations to establish if permission is required before they start works."