A MAN who removed chimneys from a Wrexham city centre building for public safety reasons is appealing against the council decision that they should be reinstated.

Jason Lewis, who organises the popular Ride CYMRU motorcycle event raising thousands of pounds for charity, inherited 18 Yorke Street through his wife suffering a family bereavement.

When one of its chimneys sustained damage in stormy weather last year making it unsafe, he was told by Wrexham Council’s building control department to make the building safe and that he was pressured to do it quickly.

He says he was advised another chimney was bulging, and after further assessment of the others he contacted the council to inform them he was going to remove all four.

But the building is in the city’s Special Conservation Area and as soon as the work was completed six weeks later he was told by the council’s conservation team that he should not have undertaken the work without prior permission.

They claimed he should only have removed one chimney and ordered that they be restored.

After a retrospective planning application was submitted, this was backed by the council’s planning committee in a narrow vote last month.

They ruled that he should reinstate the chimneys but this would cost Mr Lewis thousands of pounds he says he has not got, having spent £30,000 of his savings making the building safe.

Many councillors sympathised with his situation and felt Mr Lewis was a victim of a lack of communication between council departments, suggesting the retrospective application could be approved in exceptional circumstances.

But the committee was split 50/50 and the decision narrowly went against Mr Lewis when chair of the committee, Holt Cllr Mike Morris (Con) had the casting vote, backing planning chiefs’ opinion that permission be refused and the chimneys reinstated.

Mr Lewis says he acted in good faith on council advice to carry out work in weeks when, had it gone through the planning process, could have taken months.

Now he is launching an appeal against that decision, feeling he has a strong case, but is still willing to work with the council to replace the chimneys if it can offer assistance with the funding.

The Leader: Jason Lewis outside 18 Yorke Street, Wrexham. Source - Rory Sheehan, Local Democracy ReporterJason Lewis outside 18 Yorke Street, Wrexham. Source - Rory Sheehan, Local Democracy Reporter (Image: Rory Sheehan, Local Democracy Reporter)

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service he said: “At the time of the damage I was asked by the council what if a slate landed on a pushchair? I had that scenario put to me.

“I was told there was debris on the pavement, there was another chimney that looked like it was going to go, bulging on one side, and that we needed the roof made safe – so I was told there was a problem with another chimney even before I got down there.

“I messaged the council to say all the chimneys were coming down because I needed permits for skips to get the masonry away.

“I didn’t do this for financial gain, I haven’t done it because I have no respect for authority or conservation, I did it because I responded to the council’s instruction.”

He added: “Based on their reasons for wanting to preserve chimneys I can understand the decision going against me but based on the facts of the circumstances, I don’t think I should be penalised like this.

“The reason there was no initial planning application was because there was no time to plan.

“We were told to get the job done within weeks, not months.

“I had scaffolding up within 24 hours. I struggled to get a quality roofer to jump on the job immediately because it’s a curved roof.

“In total the scaffolding was up for six weeks, there was a road closure. Not once in those six weeks did the conservation department come to the building and say stop, you need to work with us or you need to discuss this with us.

“They waited until the scaffolding was removed and phoned me the day after to tell me I shouldn’t have done the work. They said they didn’t know that work was being undertaken.

“But we’re not talking about a sprawling metropolis here. It’s a small city centre, this is one of the main roads into it, there was a road closure, and the council say they didn’t know work was being undertaken?

“Their policy seems to be to step back and punish people later. They should have approached me and said stop doing what you’re doing.”

The Leader: 18 Yorke Street, Wrexham, before the chimneys were removed.18 Yorke Street, Wrexham, before the chimneys were removed. (Image: Google)

Mr Lewis says since the planning committee meeting he has made efforts to try and sit down with the council and see if he is eligible for any grant assistance to pay for the work – a solution mooted by councillors at the meeting. But he says he has not heard anything back in four weeks.

He has also suggested that artificial chimneys with Ruabon red style glaze could be placed on the roof to maintain the skyline which was one of the concerns raised by planning officers during the meeting.

“After the planning meeting I contacted the council to see if we could sit down and sort it out to see if I could get grant assistance”, he said.

“I said all four could chimneys could be rebuilt if they wanted, but I haven’t got the funds for that. I’ve waited four weeks for a reply and had no reply.

“Because of this, any potential sale of the building has stalled too.

“We’ve already put £30,000 of our own money in to make it safe and preserve the curved roof, so I feel we’ve already made our contribution to city centre heritage.”

Mr Lewis said he is still willing to work with the council to avoid the issue going all the way to appeal.

A spokesperson for Wrexham Council said: “It is inappropriate to comment whilst the appeal to Planning Environment Decisions Wales is ongoing.”