Fence on Tory peer's Norfolk estate put up without permission

St Mary's Church East Somerton fencing

Fencing within St Mary's Church, East Somerton, has been tagged as necessary due to the numbers of people visiting. - Credit: Liz Coates

A bid to decide whether a country estate can keep a fence put up without permission around an atmospheric church ruin is in the hands of planners.

Burnley Hall Estate's decision to install chestnut paling around St Mary's in East Somerton sparked anger and claims it had been put up around the Grade II listed remains without the proper consent.

A formal bid has now been lodged with Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

Papers in support of the 1.5m fence say it was put up with "safety at the forefront" and to deter trespassers on the estate owned by Tory peer Lord Theodore Agnew.

Vandalism and anti-social behaviour are also a problem with social media adding to a spike in church's popularity.

It says arches appear to be in a "dangerous condition" and that several stones have fallen to the floor. A structural engineer has confirmed that restricting access is "sensible", the papers add.

The fencing was also aimed at protecting the landowner from personal injury related insurance claims, as well as cutting the number of vehicles in the area.

St Mary's Church East Somerton fencing

Visitors to St Mary's Church ruins now enter through an avenue of chestnut paling fence. - Credit: Liz Coates

The papers conclude that although the fence was put up without planning consent it was in line with a raft of policies to do with the environment and conservation.

The remains of the church are tucked away in woodland and are famous for the legend of a witch being buried alive there - her  wooden leg growing into a mighty oak and destroying the church in revenge.

Somerton church ruins fencing

A new fence has been erected around and within St Mary's Church ruins in East Somerton amid reports of lockdown crowds damaging the structure and putting themselves at risk. - Credit: Liz Coates

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A retrospective planning application was asked for by borough council planning officers because the fence is near a road, over 1m tall, and within the curtilage of a listed building.

Access to the church has been maintained from Manor Farm Road only.

East Somerton church ruins St Mary's

A footpath sign points to the ruined church although access is no longer available from the wide woodland path. - Credit: Liz Coates

Lady Clare Agnew previously told this newspaper that the move to restrict access was mainly a safety issue with the Covid lockdown seeing a dramatic rise in the number of visitors who were putting pressure on the ancient site.

St Mary's Church East Somerton fencing

A chestnut paling fence within the ruins of St Mary's Church, East Somerton. - Credit: Liz Coates

To view and comment on the plans search the borough council's planning portal. A decision is due by July 2.