Ed Miliband announced today that he has commissioned a giant 8′ 6” limestone slab bearing Labour’s “six election pledges” that is to be installed in the Downing Street Rose Garden if he becomes prime minister. He has promised, or perhaps one should say “pledged,” that the stone will be visible from offices inside Number 10 to remind him to keep his electoral promises.
It seems the height of hubris to have commissioned the massive monument before he has won the election.
When the pledges were first announced in March there were only five, as shown on his pledge card:
To these, Mr Miliband has now added as something of an afterthought: “Homes to buy and action on rent.”
Be that as it may – and arithmetic has never been Mr Miliband’s favourite subject – there are a large number of legal problems which suggest that installation of the Miliband Menhir will never happen.
Obviously he is not in a position to have pledged public money for the project, so we must assume that he has either decided to pay for the dolmen himself, or that the Labour Party, or perhaps one of its Trade Union backers has agreed to foot the bill.
That bill will be substantial. Pledge pillars are not available off the shelf, and for the reasons explained below would be unsuitable anyway. Even Doncaster Memorials, which boasts 2 Doncaster showrooms abutting on his Doncaster South constituency, and the largest memorial website in the UK, has nothing remotely suitable available. The closest ready-made stone would probably be a 5’1 brown granite angel, priced at £2750 + vat.
However, Miliband has decided to go for something much bigger, more ambitious and made out of limestone.
Limestone is an odd choice because, although it is often used, it is far less durable than granite. For this reason, should it ever be erected Mr Miliband’s stone may rot away in the rain. It is unclear whether his pledge extends to the maintenance of his memorial in the future, or whether he will expect others to pick up the bill.
But the cost of the monument and its maintenance is only his first problem and not the main one.
Erection of the stone may involve Mr Miliband committing a criminal offence.
10 Downing Street is a Grade 1 listed building. This is not just because of its “darkened brick street front with sparse stone dressings, slate roof, 3 storeys, basement and dormered mansard,” important though such things are.
Nor is it just because of the part of the building overlooking the Rose Garden, the
“rear north premises of Seventeenth Century origin remodelled of red brick with hipped tiled roof, with its 7 window wide symmetrical north front with 3 window centre break, 5 window west return, with its recessed glazing bar sashes under flat gauged arches,”
It is also because the building is of special historic interest.
You tamper with listed buildings at your peril. Not just the house itself, but any structure within the “curtilage” (which includes the garden) is included.
We do not know exactly where in the garden Mr Miliband plans to erect his monument. He was photographed today standing in front of a flat slab of engraved stone that looks as though it has been designed to be attached to a wall. Should this be the stone in question and should he be unwise enough to attach it to No. 10 itself, or to any pre-1948 structure within the garden (such as a wall or railings) he will, unless he first obtains listed building consent, be committing a criminal offence under S.9 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. That is a serious offence, punishable by two years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. It is inconceivable that consent could ever be given for such a hideous piece of ephemeral political propaganda to be attached to one of the most iconic Grade 1 listed buildings in the country. Mr Miliband might as well forget that idea.
If he erects his stone as a free-standing monument in the garden, he may escape immediate prosecution under the listed building laws, but he will still require permissions from other people, none of which (as far as we know) he has yet obtained.
The Prime Minister has no right to make any structural alterations to his garden without the consent of his Landlord, which in this case would be The Queen, or in practice her managing agents, The Crown Estate.
Even if his landlord agreed to the scheme, Mr Miliband would then require planning permission from Westminster City Council. If he just plonked the 8′ 6” slab in the garden he would quickly find himself served with an enforcement notice requiring him to remove it forthwith. Failure to comply with such a notice would result in his prosecution under S.179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which carries the possibility of an unlimited fine and a very undignified start to Mr Miliband’s Prime Ministerial career.
It seems extremely unlikely that the Council would ever authorise Mr Miliband’s erection, and the process of applying for permission would be extremely arduous. I suspect, that once he realises the difficulties, the pledge to erect his pillar will soon be abandoned along, no doubt, with the pledges engraved thereon.
Nevertheless, should he wish to go ahead with his plan, as soon as he wins the election the Prime Minister will need to complete an application form and send it to Westminster Council along with:
The appropriate fee;
A 1:1250 Location plan showing exactly where he wants to position the stone;
A scaled 1:200 site plan;
Scaled elevations and sections of the proposed stone, including any base or plinth;
Photographic montages showing the stone in its context;
A “maquette” (ie a small scale model);
A written statement giving details of “historical and other particular connection between the site and the subject;”
A Schedule of the proposed works and materials and written explanation of why the “concept has been realised in the particular form proposed;”
Details of any inscription;
A statement setting out the proposed arrangements for maintenance of the stone;
Unfortunately for him the part of Whitehall in which Downing Street lies, is in what has been designated a “monument saturation zone.” The Council’s policy is that “applications for new monuments will not be considered unless there is an exceptionally good reason.”
How on earth could Mr Miliband get round the monument saturation policy? It is just possible that a truly exceptional design might make it through the planning process, although the slab he unveiled today would probably struggle to qualify:
“The Council would normally expect commissions to be undertaken by established artists of international renown, and to have arisen through a robust and transparent selection process ….
Direct invitation may also be appropriate in some circumstances, but only where the artist is of the very highest calibre and this method of commissioning is supported by a full justification.”
We don’t know who designed the slab in front of which which Mr Miliband was standing for his photo-opportunity, but, I don’t think it was an artist of international renown.
As the potentially unlawful nature of Mr Miliband’s stone became apparent Labour supporting lawyers have been busy trying to find loopholes. The most popular seems to be the observation that if the obelisk is “movable” or “temporary” it is exempt from the planning laws.
It is a dubious argument. The whole point of the wretched monolith is that it should be in situ for at least 5 years, reminding the Cabinet of their pledges. Given the apparent weight and appearance of the stone it would, unless chucked carelessly on its back on the Downing Street lawn, have to be cemented onto a base or fixed securely to a wall. The plan is that it should be there for 5 years, quite long enough in planning law for it to be regarded as a permanent structure.