Urns enforcement decision sent back for redetermination

The inclusion of two urns at a Warwickshire manor house on the statutory list was not determinative of their status, the Supreme Court has concluded.

The case centred on whether the lead urns, which had originally been positioned on limestone piers within the manor grounds, constituted “buildings” for the purposes of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The property owner had sold the urns, being unaware that they, along with the piers, were grade II listed. Following an appeal against a listed building enforcement notice requiring the urns’ reinstatement (DCS Number 400-014-158), an inspector concluded that their status was not in doubt because the 1990 act makes clear that any building included on the statutory list is by definition listed.

The inspector also held that the principles established in Skerritts of Nottingham Ltd v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions [2000], relating to size, permanence and physical attachment to the ground, were not relevant in assessing whether the urns comprised buildings. The High Court and the Court of Appeal supported the inspector’s reasons for upholding the enforcement notice.

In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court decided that the inspector had erred in failing to consider whether, as a matter of fact, the urns were buildings. If they were not, Lord Carnwath opined, including them on the statutory list would not make them otherwise, since the secretary of state could then simply remove them from the list. In his view, the case raised a startling lack of clarity over whether free-standing items can be considered for statutory protection, whether as curtilage structures or separately listed buildings.

The judge noted that after an appeal and three court hearings over five years, the claimant was none the wiser as to whether the urns qualified as buildings. He questioned whether it would be in the public interest to pursue the enforcement process any further. Irrespective of whether the urns could be returned to the grounds of the house in practical terms, the court remitted the case to the secretary of state for redetermination.

Dill v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Stratford-on-Avon District Council

Date: 20 May 2020

Ref: [2020] UKSC 20

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