Caring too much cost me my job - Sacked Conservation Officer claims love of heritage is not shared by councillors

Audmoor House - wedding venue - on March High Street.
Audmoor House - wedding venue - on March High Street.
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Fenland’s sacked conservation officer claims he lost his job after going one step too far in trying to protect the area’s heritage.

Martyn Kendall, Fenland District Council’s conservation officer, was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing for bringing the authority into disrepute. He was also accused of passing on confidential information when he tried to gain backing from English Heritage and other organisations dedicated to protecting the country’s history.

Audmoor House - wedding venue - on March High Street.

Audmoor House - wedding venue - on March High Street.

But he successfully defended that allegation.

There were five points listed against him at a hearing in July three of which were upheld. He was instantly dismissed but now Mr Kendall is taking the council to an employment tribunal.

Mr Kendall claims councillors do not take the issue of conservation seriously and he had particular misgivings over the Grade II listed Audmoor House in High Street, March, owned by the Skoulding family - Rob Skoulding is a member of Fenland District Council.

He had been trying to force the replacement of six plastic windows and a door which do not comply with Audmoor House’s Grade II listing.

However, John Skoulding, of Snowmountain Enterprises, which is responsible for the building, said the family bought the building around 10 years ago with the plastic windows in place.

At that time he and his late father Peter Skoulding had a meeting with Fenland council officers to discuss any outstanding issues with Audmoor House and its listed status before they bought it.

“We were told we could keep the plastic windows at the rear/side, but must maintain wooden ones at the front. I have been working on that understanding ever since. New people come in with new ideas. I called the conservation officer because of concerns about subsidence caused by two trees at the front of the house.

“But all Mr Kendall was interested in were the plastic windows. I have had an engineer’s report done and the building is subsiding, but now the trees have Tree Preservation Orders on them. I have made an offer to the council on the plastic windows. I have said I will replace any future windows with wooden ones and when the plastic ones need replacing they will be replaced with wooden ones too.

“I’m waiting to see if that offer has been accepted or not,” said John Skoulding.

Mr Skoulding admits two new plastic windows were fitted during the recent refurbishment, but that was done in good faith based on the agreement made with Fenland Council at the time the property was purchased.

He said: “I would not have fitted plastic windows if I knew it was wrong, why would I do that?”

But Mr Kendall said: “Adhering to the requirements of a Grade II listing is a legal issue, and people can be prosecuted for breaking the law. It doesn’t usually come to that, I have had a lot of success in making people adhere to the rules without resorting to legal action.

“However, I felt my hands were tied over Audmoor House. I wrote to English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings among others in an attempt to get their support for my stance. I admit the language I used was over the top, I referred to councillors as ‘ignorant’, which I know I should not have done.

“I knew I was taking a chance and could lose my job but I was prepared to face that risk. I was the conservation officer for Fenland for five years and there didn’t appear to be much interest in protecting the area’s heritage, and quite frankly if that is lost then Fenland will be just another place like Milton Keynes.

“If by speaking out now I can get action over Audmoor House and the illegal windows are replaced then I will be happy. I will see that as a successful outcome,” concluded Mr Kendall.

A spokesman for Fenland Council stated: “We don’t comment on issues involving individual members of staff.”

And continued: “The council is fully committed to protecting and enhancing Fenland’s heritage and this is underlined in our emerging Core Strategy. Our policies and decisions on all conservation matters are based on current legislation and national policy guidelines, together with the advice provided by specialist organisations such as English Heritage.

“As for Audmoor House, discussions are continuing with the owner to resolve the issue.”