Valerie Objects to Great Barr Hall and Park Planning Application on Green Belt Land

An application was heard by the Walsall Council Planning Committee on Thursday 10 February for a development for a wedding/conference centre and 57 new properties on the site of Great Barr Hall and Park. On Monday 7 February 2022 I wrote to the Chief Executive of Walsall Council and the Planning Services department to object on behalf of my constituents.  Details on the application are available through Walsall Council’s Planning website:  Application Numbers 13/1568/LB and 13/1567/FL. 

This application has been held over for the last 8 years. I am concerned that this application is coming before the Committee with just 7 days notice. The owners have been asked for further information, but failed to provide any evidence over the last 8 years to show there are ‘very special circumstances’ to justify building 57 luxury homes on the Green Belt and Grade II listed Parkland of regional historic importance.

The owners of Great Barr Hall have neglected its upkeep and allowed it to become almost totally derelict and it is of very little historic significance. The Hall was Grade II* listed, and after I wrote to Historic England in 2016 it was downgraded to Grade II. Historic England have formally registered their objection to this development and the proposed use of enabling development that included 10 luxury homes for the owners built on historic Grade II listed Parkland and Green Belt.

In the Express and Star on 7 February 2022 the picture showed elaborate plans for a renovated Hall. It is disingenuous for the developers to argue that restoring the Hall is their motive. The 57 luxury homes proposed to be built on Green Belt land further contravenes the National Policy Planning Framework and Policy EN7 in Walsall Council’s Site Allocation Document.

The houses would be built on historic parkland which the owners have failed to maintain for years. At a meeting on 4 November 2016 with the Environment Agency, it was confirmed that the owners had not carried out essential repairs to the lower lake. The Environment Agency had to serve legal notices on the owners to force them to carry out repairs. At every turn the owners have shown thorough disregard for the upkeep of Great Barr Hall and the Registered Parkland.

The Planning Authority’s Report is crystal clear that ‘there are no material planning considerations in support of the proposals’. The Committee must take the opportunity on Thursday to reject the plans once and for all.

The full text of my letter to the Chief Executive of Walsall Council is set out below: 

7 February 2022

Dear Helen,

Re: Great Barr Hall and Park : Application: 13/1567/FL and 13/1568/LB

I note that the above application for the construction of a conference centre and 57 properties at Great Barr Hall has been scheduled for a hearing by the Planning Committee on Thursday 10 February 2022.

As you are aware the original application was made in 2013, and a re-notification of the same application was made in 2016. I wrote to you on 4 February 2014 and 5 August 2016 to object to the proposals. I note Walsall Planning authority had requested and were waiting for further information from the Applicants, which was never provided to them.

This application has been hanging over the heads of Walsall Planning Department, and residents and stakeholders of Walsall who wholeheartedly oppose it, for 8 years now. It would appear that in the face of the applicants’ continued failure to provide necessary information over a period of years and there being no mechanism for striking an invalid application out, the only way to bring the matter to a conclusion is for a determination of the application to be made.

I note that the Planning Department’s recommendation is clear and unequivocal in its recommendation that the proposal be refused. The grounds for refusal are major in nature and legion in number.

In these circumstances, any attempt by the planning committee to overrule the officer’s recommendation would be beyond perverse.

I therefore expect that this will be the end of a protracted attempt to concrete over Grade 11 listed historic parkland of regional importance and Green Belt under the guise of restoring Great Barr Hall, which has been left by the owners to fall into further decay and dereliction.  So much so that Historic England took the drastic step of downgrading the Hall’s listing to match that of the other 150 more commonplace grade 11 listed buildings in Walsall.

I write again therefore to object to the application on the following grounds and note that these objections are supported by the officer’s recommendations and comments of statutory consultees:

(i) The Applicants have not provided evidence to address the many issues previously raised by the planning authority;

(ii) it is in clear breach of the NPPF;

(iii) it is in clear breach of the Local Plan;

(iv) it is in clear breach of the Black Country Core Strategy;

(v)  The Applicants have not demonstrated the ‘Very Special Circumstances’ required to build on Green Belt Land;

(vi) the application cannot proceed on the basis of enabling development of the Hall, which is also the view of Historic England. In September 2016 Historic England regraded the heritage status of the Hall from II* to II, reducing further any justification for enabling development.

And I would add this further objection:

(vii) the Parkland and gardens are listed Grade II and are a heritage asset of regional importance, unlike the derelict Hall which is not. Insufficient account of this hierarchy has been taken by the planning authority and the Applicant;

I also note that the planning committee Report does not include the previous objections I raised about this application on behalf of my constituents.  This included objections on planning grounds which have not been listed in the ‘Objection’ section of the report entitled ‘Representations’.  

Further, inaccuracies that exaggerate the Hall’s historical significance have been included in the section ‘Historical value’. For example the connection to the Lunar Society is vastly overblown.  I understand that the historical documentary evidence records just one occasion when members of the Lunar Society may have met at Great Barr Hall.  The exaggeration of this connection has been exploited by developers wishing to gain enabling development and it is regrettable that this misleading representation has made its way into the planning officer’s report.

In addition, the report says in its ‘Conclusions and Reasons for Decisions’ that  ‘Given that there are no material planning considerations in support of the proposals it is concluded that this application should be recommended for refusal’.

Please place this letter and my other letters of objection before the Committee.

Yours ever,

Rt Hon Valerie Vaz MP

CC: Planning Services