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The politics of listed skirtings

The other day, in connection with my soon-to-end duties as the Libertarian Alliance Phone Owner, I got a call from a householder who is having a run-in with his local politicos. I gave him the same answer I give to all such persons. Write down your story, and send it in. If it is a story worth telling, we will spread it around. Here is an email to send it to. Oh, all right then, here is an address. (No email is a very bad sign. You can’t do any sort of politics these days without email.) Sometimes I then have to add that we are a (heavy emphasis) publishing organisation and not a “campaigning organisation”, i.e. zero expense lawyers and PR experts who will do all your fighting for you. Generally that is the last we ever hear from such persons.

But this latest call was different, because today I received an email, exactly as was promised, and these people have clearly taken the trouble to be easy people to help (a very important art if you want to get ahead in the world, I think):

Dear Brian,

As per our discussion please find below some information on my fight against overarching government Please let me know if you have any questions and if you list the story at one of your blogs. Please let me know if you have any other ideas of how I can drum up support or highlight this excess of regulation, loss of property rights and waste of taxpayer’s money.

Thanks for your help


Government spending &pound100,000+ to have our skirtings lowered by less than an inch!

This is a personal call for support. Hammersmith and Fulham Council has taken issue with the internal renovation of our home of a Grade II listed building (a detailed description of the dispute is on www.stpaulsstudios.com). The council asserts that the skirtings we inserted are 0.8 inch too high and has pursued us in court three times over the matter and losing each time. We have recently won again in the Court of Appeal. During the proceedings Lord Justice Longmore called the council’s conduct vexatious. Despite having already spent more than £100,000 of tax payer’s funds, some council officers want to continue this extremely wasteful activity.

This is the right time to have your view heard. There is a meeting by the Planning Application Committee on March 8. We would like to ask you to either get in touch with one of the councillors on the committee (preferred solution) or to express your support to us. Despite it going on for 4 years none of the committee members have asked for a site visit!

Colin Aherne, Labour, Tel: 020 8753 2192
email colin.aherne@lbhf.gov.uk

Will Bethell, Conservative, Tel: 07980 017 569
email will.bethell@lbhf.gov.uk*

Michael Cartwright, Labour, Tel 020 8741 5238
email michael.cartwright@lbhf.gov.uk

Caroline Donald, Conservative, Tel 020 8749 3859
email caroline.donald@lbhf.gov.uk*

Greg Hands, Conservative, Tel 020 7381 2593
email mail@greghands.com*

Wesley Harcourt, Labour, Tel 020 8749 3298
email wesley.harcourt@lbhf.gov.uk

Jafar Khaled, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2020
email jafar.khaled@lbhf.gov.uk

Dame Sally Powell, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2021
email sally.powell@lbhf.gov.uk

Frances Stainton, Conservative, Tel 020 7385 3672
email frances.stainton@lbhf.gov.uk

Charlie Treloggan, Labour, Tel 020 8753 2013
email charlie.treloggan@lbhf.gov.uk

The councillors with an asterix are new to the committee.

Your action can rescue us from this futile and erroneous legal interpretation and save all of us from our tax money being wasted (the rates already high enough as they are).

Yours Sincerely,
Christian and Katya Braun
137 Talgarth Road – London W14 9DA
020 8563 0612 – Fax 020 7691 7185

Now that is how to campaign. That is how to get other people to help you. And if you follow the link in the paragraph under their subheading, you’ll find further details of the dispute, just as it says, and you will be even more impressed.

This listed building thing has really got out of hand. It has got so that if they list a building no one wants to own it and it collapses into a ruin.

34 comments to The politics of listed skirtings

  • Tim in PA

    I’ve said it before many times, and I will say it again;

    If you poor Brits hadn’t let yourselves be disarmed, you could go seize these government busy-bodies and tar and feather them.

    Thank you all, at least, for providing an example of how horribly wrong things can go when you leave the government unchecked. (We aren’t too far behind you, but in our case I don’t think it’s too late, yet)

  • It’s easy to poke fun at officials persecuting people for the height of their skirting boards. But are you suggesting there should be *no* attempt to preserve historic buildings? If not, where would you draw the line? Would you just let people pull all old houses down as soon as they need a bit of renovation and build new ones?

    Which is, incidentally, the main approach the Germans have followed since the war. I can think of any number of little Bavarian towns and villages, in idyllic settings, consisting almost entirely of identikit new houses. Which are probably warmer, more comfortable to live in and cheaper to maintain than even renovated old ones would be. They don’t half look boring though.

    I assume nobody forced these people to buy a listed building. Having voluntarily bought one, would it not then have been prudent of them to check the building standards applicable to their building before they had the work done?

  • Julian Morrison

    There is a valid way to preserve historical buildings.

    First, if you want to preserve them specifically, buy them, or ask the owner nicely. Use force and all you’ll end up with is abandoned buildings.

    Second, to preserve history in general, tear down and erase the planning permission system and “green belt” laws. The sudden increase in housing availability this would create, would decrease the “listed” houses value as mere houses, and increase the proportion of their value that’s due to their age and aesthetics. Thus owners would gain a price incentive to look after them.

    Planning permission is responsible for a great many evils, and this is one of them.

  • Guy Herbert

    Alan Little rather assumes that there are rational and explicit standards. Maybe there are in Germany, but in Britain planners get to rule as they go along. The great sin is to dispute or pre-empt the wisdom and power of the officials rather than do obeisance and negotiate a face-saving compromise. It looks like the poor Brauns have fallen into this trap. Another example.

    Councils are mainly just administrators of central directives. Planning is one of very few areaas in which they have power. So councillors are apt to protect the system, and support their officers, I fear.

  • So in the USA you’d just shoot the councillors?

    I thought thats how they did things in Northern Ireland, not the Land of the Free…

    …what on earth does this have to do with guns?

  • In Ireland your property can get designated a “protected structure” whether you like it or not. This new version of listing is wide-ranging and requires you on pain of prosection to preserve everything about the building exactly as it is now until you get a report from a conservation officer which tells you otherwise. There is no such thing as partial listing (such as facade only) so you have the laughable situation where the owner of a building with an historical facade but an execrable 1960s interior must not remove any of the formica fittings and may not remove or paint over the lurid wallpaper.

    Alan Little,

    But are you suggesting there should be *no* attempt to preserve historic buildings?

    Yes, there should be no government attempt to preserve historical buildings (by buying up and restoring them) and there certainly should be no attempt to do this on the cheap by forcing property owners to maintain their buildings according to bureacratic diktat. There is no reason why the work of preserving historical structures cannot be done by private charities instead.

  • Ironchef

    Alan, It’s their house. They can do with it as they see fit.

  • Doug Collins

    One simple disincentive to bureaucratic idiocy would be to subject them to some cost for their prosecutions. Anytime something is free, there will be an unlimited consumption of it.

    The ideal would be to make them personally liable for the cost of unsuccessful actions. That is probably politically unlikely to ever be adopted. A more limited possibility would be to give them a budget for liabilities from failed actions and make them live within it. That would make them pick and choose whom to persecute -sorry I meant to say prosecute, and how far to carry the matter.

  • Bombadil

    It’s easy to poke fun at officials persecuting people for the height of their skirting boards. But are you suggesting there should be *no* attempt to preserve historic buildings? If not, where would you draw the line? Would you just let people pull all old houses down as soon as they need a bit of renovation and build new ones?

    If there is a value to preserving historic buildings then those who value doing so should be willing to pay more for such buildings, thus providing an incentive for those who currently own them to maintain them in their historic state.

    If you aren’t willing to pay to preserve them, why should someone else be made to bear the cost for your historic building fetish?

  • Rick C

    I’ve long felt that trying to live in one of these “historic” houses is a bad idea and wouldn’t want to do it. Nor would I want to live in a place that has a homeowners’ association, for more or less the same reason.

    It’s interesting that over there your whole house can be “historic.” Here in the US I thought that it applied only to the exterior of the house and you could do whatever you wanted inside, although I don’t know that for certain.

  • Tim in PA

    The Last Toryboy …. I was just implying that is it yet another sypmtom of the UK gov’t getting way out of hand. If you let them take away something so basic as the right to self defense, then of course they are going to tell you that your moulding is a fraction of an inch out of compliance.

    The difference is that here, when we say NO, we can back it up.

  • What’s the deal with Brits and gun control anyhow? You’d think they’d have learned from the Revoltionary War. Soem of us just aren’t students of hostory huh?

  • ic

    How do you get those councillors fired?
    They are not protecting historic buildings, they are protecting their jobs. If Blair wants to shrink the govt., this is where he should begin.

  • Guy Herbert

    At the risk of turning a potentially interesting discussion of planning and architectural preservation into a free-fire zone…

    I’ve only visited 10 states, so my sample may be misleading me, but I find it hard to believe that in the US problems with bullying government are generally resolved by shooting the officials, elected or otherwise. Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t wear an obvious flak jacket to public engagements.

    Absence of guns in the UK is a symptom of totalitarian government, not its cause. There’s no shortage of guns in France, but their obtrusive officialdom hasn’t been massacred.

    The big difference between the US and the UK on this point is not how interfering officials can be when they get the chance, but that in the US they don’t get so much chance on this specific topic. I’d speculate that that’s more because the zoning powers themselves are locally developed and controlled so they vary from fierce to non-existent, because there’s an awful lot of space, and because there aren’t very many historic buildings to be fetishized.

    Observers of the British “listed building” system will have spotted that once upon a time listed buildings were generally ancient and interesting, and often beautiful too. Now we have nearly half a million. And everything will get listed that is regarded as architecturally meritorious, whether interesting or not, regardless that all plans and specifications are available for future study. (And that doesn’t count the millions of buildings that fall under the specially demanding planning rules of a Conservation Area so might as well be listed if the owners, say, wish to change the colour of the front door.)

    Private Eye’s architecture critic, Piloti has an intriguing theory that most new commercial buildings are deliberately mediocre, because the corporations developing them have taken into account that their use and fabric will have to be modified during their lifetimes to keep them profitable, and listing is a serious threat if you build something impressive.

  • Guy Herbert

    Here’s a US example. No officials were harmed.

  • Frank, Ironchef (and others)

    I’m not sure if I agree with you or not about the general principle of no plannng regulations, no state preservation of historic buildings etc.

    That, however, is not what I see as the issue here. These people *voluntarily* bought their house, knowing that special regulations applied to it, when they could have chosen other houses instead, and now they are bleating about the consequences of their own vountary decision. My sympathy for people who find they don’t like situations they have knowingly put themselves into of their own free will is limited.

    I would have thought you guys, too, would be all in favour of people facing the consequences of their own freely-entered-into choices

  • Alan,

    So I suppose if you “voluntarily” take a job where tax is deducted from your salary at source, you shouldn’t complain about the level of that tax? A similar argument could be made to support every single instance of intrusive government regulation because it is “already in place”.

    In any case, your characterisation of owners of listed properties is flawed. Listing of buildings is not static but a continuing process and tends to be done over the objections of the existing property-owner. Further obligations are also imposed involuntarily.

  • Andy Wood

    These people *voluntarily* bought their house, knowing that special regulations applied to it, when they could have chosen other houses instead, and now they are bleating about the consequences of their own vountary decision.

    But, according to the Brauns, after losing the case in court, the council continued to pursue them for the same alleged offences by setting up a public inquiry.

    This is not how officials should be have if we are governed by the Rule of Law.

  • I can’t easily take a job where tax isn’t deducted at source. I can easily buy a non-listed house.

    As matter of fact, I choose of my own free will to live in Germany because, despite Germany being even more over-taxed and over-regulated than Britain, there as other things about it that I personally prefer. Which I don’t think removes my right to be critical of the way the Germans choose to govern themselves – as long as I keep in mind that living here is a situation I entered into, and remain in, of my own free will. Not liking the level of taxation or the building regulations isn’t remotely comparable to, say, having been born in the Soviet Union or Baathist iraq and not being allowed to leave.

    And you can do *whatever you want* with your property? You mean you have the right to render my property next door worthless by suddenly deciding to use your house as a pig farm or a firework factory? But surely I have the right to defend the value of my property – so then either we’re in a Hobbesian war of all against all where what counts is which of us can hire more armed thugs, or we *do* have some sort of agreed rules about what people are allowed to do with their property. At which point where you draw the line between “not farming pigs” and “not having the wrong height skirting boards” becomes a more or less arbitrary matter of negotiation.

    I’m deliberately being somewhat contrarian here. I agree that pushing this case through three levels of appeal seems excessive and vindictive: I agree that *if* the regulations were changed or not clearly laid down, or these people’s house was listed against their will after they bought it, then my entire argument collapses.

  • I can’t easily take a job where tax isn’t deducted at source.

    Er, yes you can actually. You can be self-employed. You can even work for someone else on contract and still be self-employed.

    Not liking the level of taxation or the building regulations isn’t remotely comparable to, say, having been born in the Soviet Union or Baathist iraq and not being allowed to leave.

    Agreed. And your point is?

    And you can do *whatever you want* with your property? You mean you have the right to render my property next door worthless by suddenly deciding to use your house as a pig farm or a firework factory?

    That’s why it’s called my property. These sorts of arguments are trotted out all the time to support planning restrictions but fall apart on closer inspection. Some sites are suitable for living in, some sites are suitable for pig farms and others for firework factories. If you are very concerned by pig-farming you might want to re-think that whole “rural retreat” concept. Similarly, if you are put off by proximity to firework factories, you will probably have to ditch the “converted warehouse loft apartment” dream.

  • Just another point: I’m willing to deal with your supposed conundrum.

    Let us say the residents of 33 Acacia avenue, Suburbsville decide to get into firework manufacture. There is still no reason to believe that heavy-handed planning regulation and enforcement is the optimum method for dealing with this hypothetical problem.

    Let us stipulate that there are “negative externalities”, as there would be with any nuisance neighbour. The negative effect of this firework factory is restricted to those proximate. Say numbers 1-66 Acacia avenue. If their property is devalued they have an interest in collectively buying out the residents of 33, then selling on with a stipulation in the contract that no haxardous industrial activity takes place. No need for the government to get involved. If they aren’t bothered enough to do this, then the “devaluation” obviously isn’t all that much.

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    I sold my holiday flat on the south coast recently. One reason was because it had been “listed”.

    My problem arose when I decided I wanted to replace the door out onto the balcony. This door, exposed to the salt sea winds, was in desperate condition. I held it shut primarily with Safeway bags braided into a rope which I could hook over a nail on the inside.

    But when I decided to replace the door I discovered I would have to pay a fee to the council to approve my plans and pay an architect to produce the plans (I hoped) would be approved.

    The door, by the way, was invisible save from the balcony itself, my flat or (perhaps) by telescope from ships at sea.

    So I paid a nice man cash and had it done surreptitiously in about two hours.

    Oh, incidentally, this historic building was completed in 1938.

  • I’m guessing the ‘listing’ activity referred to is approximately the same as the listing of structures and properties on the State / Federal Register of Historic Places in the US. And if they are listing structures that are what, 65 years or so old, that seems about the same as here. But that strikes me as odd, given that one of the things I’ve heard from those who say that the US has no culture and is so immature is that ‘old’ buildings in Europe are hundreds of years old, whereas ‘old’ buildings in the US are 100 years old.

    Another thing that is used here in the US, is that the listing of the historic properties is used as primarily an obstructionist tactic by many groups which have no interest in some ratty 75-year-old shed, but do have an interest in stopping a construction project. We even have a category for ‘Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places’, where something isn’t actually ON it, but could maybe be, so it gains the full protection.

    It is a sad story that so much government time and effort has gone into nit-picking on a structure that the owners obviously cared enough to attempt to make fit the council’s edict. I agree that the further pursuance of this (even the attempt so far) is extraordinarily wasteful, and will just chill the intents of other people who would like to live in an ‘historic’ house.

  • So if my neighbour decides to do something obnoxious with his property that severely interferes with my right to enjoy my property, and I’m not rich enough to buy him out, tough shit?

    The fact that there’s an excess of something (planning controls) doesn’t necessarily mean that the right answer is none of it whatsoever.

  • Alan,

    If you’re not rich enough to buy him out you could always sell and move on if it’s that big a deal. The reality is that it’s never that big a deal.

    Property rights extend as far as the property you own, if that property is damaged in a tangible way by an adjoining property owner you are certainly entitled to redress. There are perfectly good ways of obtaining redress without a planning authority. Demonstrate the tangible damage and sue him. Of course the type of issues in which planning authorities get involved have nothing to do with tangible damage to property at all.

    The only way to ensure that there is no “excess of planning control” is to have no planning control. There hasn’t been a government organisation, in the whole wretched history of bureacracy, disinclined to expand its remit. But that is beside the point. There is no justification for a planning authority in the first place. It is injurious to property rights, it achieves no benefit which is unobtainable by non-state methods, it has a distorting effect on the market and it crowds out private action.

  • John Harrison

    These people *voluntarily* bought their house, knowing that special regulations applied to it

    In many cases properties are listed after the owner bought them. The owner is then stuck with a listed building and it certainly is not voluntary.

  • Andy Wood

    So if my neighbour decides to do something obnoxious with his property that severely interferes with my right to enjoy my property, and I’m not rich enough to buy him out, tough shit?

    No. You could sue him in the civil courts.

    The fact that there’s an excess of something (planning controls) doesn’t necessarily mean that the right answer is none of it whatsoever.

    But even with the possibility that my use of my property may harm my neighbours, it is still possible that the right answer is no planning whatsoever.

    The common law of nuisance was already developed to deal with the sort of things you’re talking about.

  • Julian Taylor

    1)First of all lets get the definition of what a Graded or Listed build is. According to Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 the law “…requires the government to create lists of buildings that are to be specially protected as part of the national heritage”. This law helps to protect, among others, such places at Stonehenge and The Tower of London.

    2) If you are buying a Listed building you have no excuse for being aware that the building is listed, a simple land registry search would uncover this fact.

    3) Having lived in the Talgarth Road, albeit further back from St Paul’s Studios, I know for a fact that the other building in St Pauls Studios are NOT, repeat NOT, in a rundown state at all, several of the buildings are in use – most notably the Royal Ballet School occupies number 155 Talgarth Road, and number 154 if memory serves correctly.

    Yes, building regulations in the UK are totally screwed. Anyone who has ever commissioned his or her own property to be built knows just how frustrating the National House Building Council rules are, not just to the public but to contractors and architects alike.
    The point is that if you are going to buy a property such as one of those amazing studios in Talgarth Road you should be aware of the restrictions. Don’t come blabbing to a libertarian blog simply because the, however ridiculous, regulations don’t allow you to do whatever you wish with your listed property.

  • Andy Wood

    The point is that if you are going to buy a property such as one of those amazing studios in Talgarth Road you should be aware of the restrictions. Don’t come blabbing ….

    So, despite the fact that the Council continues to pursue the Brauns, even after having lost the case in court, their complaint is entirely unreasonable?

  • Guy Herbert

    Julian Taylor’s comment is more confusing than clarifying, I fear.

    1) Stonehenge, et al., are Scheduled Ancient Monuments, not listed buildings in the usual sense. There is currently a “research project” in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on unifying the regimes for planning permission (including conservation areas), listed building consent, scheduled monument consent, and the building regulations. For the time being they are separate and overlapping. Since this is a bureaucrat’s review, unification will not mean simplification, nor fairer procedures.

    2) Yes. But that just tells you it may be a pain in the neck, not how much–which depends on the interlocking whim of local planners and English Heritage, and possibly intervention from local conservation vigilantes as well. The less cynical buyer may suppose such organisations will reciprocate his good intentions and appreciate his views.

    3) Knowledge of the area wouldn’t tell you what the internal state of each building is, and the Brauns appear to be having problems over interior restorations.

    I’m inclined to believe, however, that engaging the support of libertarians who are likely to object to the whole system, may be a counterproductive way to proceed. If you are determined (and rich) enough to fight, the politic thing to do is not to get inappropriate people to lobby councillors in an unpredictable way, but to find allies respected within the system, such as the aforementioned local conservation busybodies.

  • I am the owner of the property in question. First of all thanks for your interest. Now some comments to what has been said. I only disagree with Alan Little and Julian Taylor.

    To Alan whose main point was that I knew what I got into in terms of regulatory burden when I bought my home I would just say that it is completely arbitrary. The legal requirement is to get Listed Building Consent if one plans “to alter a listed building so that it affects its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest”. I assumed at purchase that this meant major changes to the façade and alike and to date no case has hit the UK courts where such minute details as the height of skirtings of an 1890s building had been prosecuted over. What we have here is a local council with no oversight (they have refused for four years to do a site visit) and reckless bureaucrats. It fits the picture that one of the council officers reasoned that if they let me prevail they would loose all leverage over other listed buildings (Hammersmith & Fulham has approx 1,000). If the legislation had stipulated exactly which architectural features could not be changed without consent and would have listed those on a schedule then I would agree with Alan’s logic (but not substance).

    To Julian. This is not about me not having known this is a listed building, of course I did know. It is also not about other building in the vicinity (and to be exact, the Royal Ballet School is not listed). This is precisely about the regulation and its interpretation that I came to this libertarian blog. I am afraid that you don’t get it; this is where one of the many battles for personal freedom has to be fought. Here is what I believe in: The rational thing for me to do would have been to cave in (as nearly all my neighbours have done in the past) and just agree to the officers’ requests. It would have cost me £3,000 (I had to get it valued for my mortgage provider). I have decided to fight on principle and to date spend £60,000 on that effort. The courts of this country are something the UK can be proud of, but not the more and more pervasive ways of dealing with other authorities. Take an inspector at a public inquiry. He gets selected by a government authority, has worked in the majority of cases for local government in the past and his decision are final (appeals can only be raised on technical grounds). Hammersmith and Fulham has had ten officers plus four people at the Secretary of State plus three at the Treasury’s Solicitors work on making sure that my internal decorations are changed to their likings (I had a number of experts stating that my alterations are not falling under the definition of an alteration needing consent). I have not been proven to alter the character of this building and the Court of Appeal called Hammersmith’s officers’ conduct vexatious and stated that they do not expect for this matter to proceed. Nevertheless, the officers are already working on another public inquiry and this time they have asked for 5 days of hearings (apparently they did not have enough time to discuss the merit of their case over the three days of the last inquiry).

    To everybody else. Thanks for your support. It would be great if you could email me briefly on support@stpaulsstudios.com to express such support. Guy Herbert is correct in stating that engaging the support of libertarians who are likely to object to the whole system may be a counterproductive way to proceed. Therefore please mention your reasons for support to citing waste of taxpayers’ money and the out-of-proportionality with the intention of the Listed Building Act. For anybody with more interest in the matter please see http://www.stpaulsstudios.com or call me on (020) 8748 2810. Julian, I would be happy to show you around.


  • Alberto Gattone

    The action brought by the Council was not simply about the height of the skirting boards. Mr Braun should explain that he had also ripped out the orginal wainscotting. Demolished an arch in an alcove to make way for a bookcase and timber clad the stairway causing damage to the original plaster underneath.
    He was well aware of the buidings listed status but tried to get away with his vandalism by not applying for planning permission until concerned neighbours shopped him to the council.
    The action against Mr Braun was not only supported by the council and local residents but also English Heritage and the Victorian Society.
    I think the council’s actions were highly laudable.
    Such flagrant disregard for planning laws should carry a term of imprisonment.
    I understand Mr Braun repeatedly refused to repair the damage he had caused in the pursuit of ‘personal freedom’ – presumably the freedom to commit vandalism.
    It is Mr Braun’s philistism and intransigence which has drained the public purse IMO.

  • Jonathan Agar

    I’m afraid everything A Gattone has said is wrong, including the words “and” and “the”.

    Christian Braun reconstructed the wainscotting from the small amounts still present. There is now new wainscotting where it was previously missing. The arch was not demolished; it was filled with plasterboard. The stairway was timberclad by a contractor – why should Christian Braun not be able to arrange wainscotting and staircaase cladding to his liking?

    The action was not supported by local residents; a majority of the St Pauls Studios supported him (though this should hardly be an argument in what a homeowner does in his own house). Testimony from the Victorian Society should be examined carefully as to what they actually understood of the case.

    Gattone appears to believe that councillors should be able to arbitrarily decide what does or does not constitute appropriate alterations. Poppycock.

  • Christian Braun

    As a libertarian I like to disregard the factual inaccuracies but take issue with Alberto’s view that matters of interior decoration should be of concern to the public; that is unless the public is willing to acquire a building with such interior (in which case it should be able to make a market price compulsory purchase offer under clearly defined circumstances).

    I strongly believe in private property rights. These should only be infringed (and only very carefully) if an important public good would otherwise be impaired. Therefore listing the facade of my building as one of special architectural value is acceptable but not listing my skirtings, staircases or other internal features since they are not seen by the public.

    So again, if I want to I should be allowed to strip out every single internal feature and then paint the inside in purple. I think the public argument is proven ad absurdum by the fact that it took a noisy neighbour to trespass onto my property.