April 23 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Saturday, January 4, 2014
Sacked conservation officer Martyn Kendall – who claims to have been frogmarched out of Fenland Hall, March – is to fight his dismissal at an employment tribunal in the New Year.
And he says he chances of winning his case “will be boosted” by comments made by Fenland Council leader Alan Melton during December’s building and design award presentations.
Mr Kendall claims he paid the ultimate price for trying to do his job of “protecting Fenland’s heritage”. At the time of his dismissal he was working on a new policy for windows in conservation areas.
Now Mr Kendall, who lost his job in August, believes his case for unfair dismissal has received a significant boost following a protest by Chatteris businessman Peter Taylor during the design awards ceremony.
Mr Taylor dressed as Santa Claus and stood outside the Boathouse, Wisbech, as councillors and dignitaries arrived to protest at being prosecuted by Fenland Council for not replacing plastic windows in a terraced house he owns in New Road, Chatteris.
Mr Taylor has always insisted his campaign was “simply about being treated fairly- and I feel, as do others, that I have not been dealt a fair hand”.
Later that evening Mr Melton broke from a prepared speech to comment that “it does strike me as strange that this guy has been prosecuted for wrongly having windows installed in a row of cottages. It makes you wonder who was responsible for the listing in the first place”.
Mr Melton also noted other buildings in Chatteris with plastic windows had not been prosecuted including the King Edward Community Centre which was “slap bang in the conservation area”.
In an email to me Mr Kendall defends the prosecution of Mr Taylor and said “he should have been prosecuted long before as was my intention, if senior councillors had allowed me to do this.
“Clearly Councillor Melton is a serious danger to Fenland’s heritage as he clearly feels that the statutory protection of Fenland’s listed buildings is not a legal requirement but can be ignored to suit his own biased opinions”.
Mr Kendall added: “Clearly no one from Fenland’s management team is ‘manning up’ to tell the ‘leader’ that listed buildings are protected by law and that he can’t make up his own rules”.
The former conservation officer added: “Happily the success of my employment tribunal at the end of February 2014 will be boosted by these comments which I will include in my evidence against the council.
“Fenland Council can no longer state that they are ‘fully committed to protecting and enhancing Fenland’s heritage’ as stated in the dismissal hearing and again in your paper in August.”
Mr Kendall added: “I will therefore reiterate in the tribunal that I was sacked for trying to protect Fenland’s listed buildings against the desires of councillors and specifically those of Councillor Melton.”
At the time of his departure Mr Kendall was working on a new policy to cover all aspects of replacement doors and windows for homes in conservation areas or for properties which are listed.
In an interview with me at the time of his dismissal he told how he was off sick with stress earlier in the year but when he returned to he was summoned to a meeting with planning chief Graham Nourse.
He believes council officials used his absence to check emails he had written to organisations such as English Heritage and the Georgian Society in which he used language which the council found objectionable.
Mr Kendall admits he described some councillors as “ignorant and the dregs”.
He said: “I can’t deny it. The council said I was using council property and the computer to pursue my own personal objectives. But all I was doing was trying to ensure buildings are protected.”
He was accused of sharing sensitive information with partners but said what he had in fact shared was the council’s inability to respect the law which says no plastic windows are permissible in listed buildings.
“I was quite blunt in my email,” he said. “I wasn’t offensive even though I did call some councillors ignorant”.
He was also accused of insubordination for arranging a meeting with Cabinet member Councillor Simon King, who is responsible for enforcement and listed buildings.
Mr Kendall said he was told not to go ahead with the meeting but then advised it would be rude to cancel although he was banned from discussing either issue with Mr King. Instead they talked about grants and buildings at risk.
The former conservation officer believes council policies are in disarray and it didn’t help last autumn when enforcement against Kent House, Chatteris, for having plastic windows was halted.
Mr Kendall said all enforcement against those with plastic windows was halted at the express wish of Mr Melton.
“Everything had to go through Mr Melton – what Mr Melton wants Mr Melton has to have,” he said.”
“Did you know the council considered scrapping the conservation service in 2009- a year after I was appointed? The then chief executive Sandra Claxton told me I would have to work very hard to show why Fenland Council requires a conservation role. I think the pressure came from members- they have always been anti conservation.”
Fenland Council has always refused to discuss Mr Kendall’s dismissal insisting that “we don’t comment on issues involving individual members of staff.”
A spokesman added: “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.”