A refusal by Westminster City Council to grant listed building consent for internal alterations to a Grade II listed building at Lygon Place, SW1W has been upheld on appeal.
The main aspect of the listed building consent application dealt with by the Inspector concerned the proposal to remove a secondary staircase at the property and replace it with a lift.
An interesting aspect of the appeal was that the staircase had already been unlawfully removed and the appellant sought to rely on the difficulties in re-instating it as a major part of its case for consent for its removal.
Following submissions, the inspector agreed with the Council that he must treat the staircase as being in situ and issues of re-instatement were irrelevant. He therefore proceeded on that basis having made a ruling to that effect.
The secondary staircase sits next to the main staircase within its own stairwell, and provides access to the basement and some upper levels.
During the course of the three day inquiry the Inspector heard evidence from the Council’s heritage expert witness on the involvement of the firm of Balfour and Turner in the design of the listed building. The inspector agreed that the secondary staircase, which was made from relatively more expensive stone material rather than timber and did not access all floors, could be seen as part of the attempt by architectural movements of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to break down social and class barriers by, in effect, forcing interaction between servants and occupiers. The Inspector accepted the Council’s interpretation of the significance of the secondary staircase, describing it as a lens through which occupiers and visitors to the listed building can appreciate the social structures in England prior to the outbreak of World War I as well as the subsequent social changes brought about by the war.
The Inspector was persuaded by the Council that in the circumstances the public benefits of the proposal would not outweigh the harm identified to the significance of the heritage asset. The introduction of a lift was not necessary beyond the personal preference of the occupiers and there were other potential locations in the building where a lift could be installed. The proposal before the Inspector was therefore not one which was required to secure the optimum viable use of the heritage asset.
Saira Kabir Sheikh QC acted on behalf of Westminster City Council.
The inspector’s decision letter can be found here.