Ottery St Mary’s heritage assets ‘at risk’

The Five Bells, in Ottery St Mary. This picture was taken around 1910, when it was known as the Matt

The Five Bells, in Ottery St Mary. This picture was taken around 1910, when it was known as the Matthews' Five Bells Inn. - Credit: Archant

Councillors say they were kept in the dark about ‘very bad’ condition of conservation area

Ottery’s conservation area is ‘at risk’ - but civic leaders say they have been kept in the dark about its deteriorated state until now.

District chiefs admitted last week that a lack of communication needs to be addressed after it emerged many of the town’s heritage assets are in ‘very bad’ condition, yet no information had been reported to representatives who advise on planning decisions.

A conservation area is categorised as a place particularly valued by the community because of its historic character and associations.

An annual survey conducted by East Devon District Council (EDDC) highlighted a number of concerns and officially identified the fragile state of Ottery’s conservation area.

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Results are recorded on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register, but details were only revealed to town councillors at a meeting last week.

Councillor Jo Talbot highlighted the issue following a talk she attended to gather information for the creation of the Neighbourhood Plan, which will shape the future of the parish.

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She said: “A representative from Historic England told us that Ottery’s conservation area is in the ‘at risk’ category. EDDC knew about this, but it did not follow through to us.

“We should have had guidance on what to say when shops come up in the conservation area. We need to look at restoring our conservation area.”

Cllr Roger Giles condemned the lack of information that he said should have been taken into account in all planning recommendations.

In response, an EDDC spokeswoman said: “Like all local authorities, we are required to carry out an annual survey of our conservation areas by Historic England. Following the survey work and during discussions with Historic England, concerns were raised about Ottery town centre - particularly regarding shop fronts, signage and the use of uPVC windows.

“These concerns have led to it being identified as ‘at risk’, along with over 500 other conservation areas nationally.”

In response to the authority’s failure to pass on the information, the spokeswoman said: “We do not have any specific processes for reporting when heritage assets are at risk. This is something that needs to be looked at, together with how we can engage more with our communities to prevent heritage assets being put at risk and how we can address this when it happens.”

She added advice is available to town councillors with regards to planning matters on request.

The full assessment reveals that Ottery’s conservation area is in a ‘very bad’ condition, but its vulnerability is classed as ‘medium’, with the trend towards improving.

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