A PLANNING law expert has warned owners of listed buildings in Cheshire that ‘Big Brother is watching them’ after a conservation watchdog vowed to crack down on unauthorised work.
David Kerfoot, head of planning and environmental law at Chester-based law firm Aaron & Partners, was reacting to the recent news that Cheshire is to be at the heart of a new initiative to help protect historic buildings and monuments.
The joint venture between English Heritage, Cheshire Police and Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) was launched earlier this month and aims to reduce vandalism of historical sites and encourage reports of crimes against heritage buildings in the county.
Mr Kerfoot said two of English Heritage’s four key priorities to reduce heritage crime relate directly to unauthorised works to land or buildings.
He added: “This includes a focus on preventing and detecting unlawful excavations and the removal of articles from the historic environment, as well as the prevention and enforcement of unauthorised works to a listed building.
“Owners and occupiers of listed buildings must be very careful to ensure that any work carried out has the proper approvals, or they could end up being prosecuted and forced to carry out expensive remediation works.
“Carrying out work to a listed building without the relevant approvals is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £20,000, or even imprisonment for more serious offences,” he explained.
Mr Kerfoot, who spent 12 years as an in-house planning solicitor in local authorities before moving into the private sector, believes owners of listed buildings across the borough must be ‘ultra-cautious’ in the coming months.
He said: “My advice would be to always seek specialist advice from a qualified builder or architect before you carry out any work, in order to find out if what you are proposing is in keeping with the building and the area.
“If you do find yourself facing enforcement action then contact a solicitor who is a specialist in dealing with these matters as soon as possible,” he added.