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Council defeats High Court challenge over development at historic railway yard

Historic England has failed in a challenge to Milton Keynes Council over its decision to allow a development on part of a historic railway yard.

Mr Justice Dove, in the High Court, noted that the legacy of the beginnings of the railway age included a collection of buildings on the Wolverton railway works site, some dating back to the mid-19th century, and in 2001 it became part of the Wolverton Conservation Area.

Historic England challenged Milton Keynes’ decision to allow developer St Modwen to demolish unlisted buildings to build 375 homes.

It said the extensive demolition involved would entail substantial harm to the significance of the conservation area and that Milton Keynes’ own conservation and archaeology manager had expressed similar views.

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Objections also came from the Ancient Monuments Society, Save Britain's Heritage and the Victorian Society.

But ruling in Historic Buildings And Monuments Commission for England, R (On the Application Of) v Milton Keynes Council [2018] EWHC 2007, Dove J said the officer’s report which recommended acceptance had been properly compiled and Historic England had not suffered any prejudice.

He went on to dismiss arguments that Milton Keynes had been wrong in its assessment of what constituted an area’s historic character.

“In my view it is clear that the phrase ‘character or appearance’ is not confined simply to the historic built fabric of the area,” the judge said.

“Whilst undoubtedly that historic built fabric will be integral to the ‘appearance’ of the area, it is important to note that the statutory test is quite deliberately not confined to simply visual matters.

“The inclusion of the area's ‘character’ clearly broadens the range of qualities which can be relevant to the evaluative judgment, and in my view plainly incorporates within the test matters such as historic uses and the contributions which they make to the character of the area by influencing the understanding of that area and reflecting experiences that are not simply visual.”

Nothing in statute said the built fabric should be regarded as pre-eminent over other dimensions of the historic interest of the area such as the uses that historically have taken place within it, the judge said.

Mark Smulian

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