Northampton firm can finally keep safety shutters after months of wrangling with planners

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An accountancy firm that installed shutters for security on its Northampton town centre office has been told it can keep them up after months of wrangling with the borough council.

Cottons Accountants installed the window shutters on its base at 1 Billing Road after it was broken into, just weeks after the firm moved into the office in March last year.

But Northampton Borough Council planning officers felt that the shutters compromised the character of the 19th-century building, which is included on the Local List of Buildings of Interest. The officers recommended that a planning application to retain the shutters was refused.

But councillors on the borough’s planning committee erred on the side of staff’s safety, after hearing that the shutters would have caused no damage to the building if they were ever removed.

Nick Warne, a managing partner at Cottons, told councillors: “I was working in the middle of the night when I got the call we had been broken into. When I arrived I found broken glass and blood all over the place. We had only been there a short while and it was completely demoralising.

“We took advice from the police and they recommended shutters. We looked at internal shutters, but they would have been detrimental to the Victorian reception, which is as good as The Guildhall is.

“It would have also seen our staff working an unfriendly, unwelcoming environment.”

Sam Rumens, an employee who is also a county councillor, spoke in favour of retaining the shutters, saying: “The safety of myself and all the other staff will be at risk if you refuse this.”

Planning officers had recommended refusal by saying: “By reason of their bulk and design, the proposed shutters are out of keeping with the character of the building. The shutters are considered to result in demonstrable harm and have a negative impact on the character, appearance and setting of the St Giles and Billing Road conservation areas.”

But members sided with Cottons instead of planning officers.

Councillor Samuel Kilby-Shaw said: “I would value anyone’s life more than a building. The shutters wouldn’t be making the building any worse.”

And Councillor Jane Birch said: “I think it’s a sad sign of the times that buildings have to be protected in this way. But this is not a listed building, it’s a building of interest, and there’s a difference.

“The shutters do not affect the facade and are on the side of the building. It’s not permanent, it can be taken away, and it’s a practical solution.”

A written statement on the decision states: "On balance, it is considered that the retention of the shutters do not significantly affect the visual amenity of the local listed building and character and appearance of the St. Giles and Billing Road Conservation Areas, and would lead to less than substantial harm to the integrity of heritage assets which would be outweighed by the public benefits of the development in providing security for the building.”