When Bob Parks wanted to replace the thatch on his pretty Broads cottage with tiles, officials had rather some strange advice for him.

They would not grant him planning permission to do - but said that if he put fresh thatch on the property he would then be able to remove it and install tiles instead.

Now, after Mr Parks appealed against the Broads Authority's bizarre decision, government officials have told him he can go ahead with his original tiling plans, without the need for the rigmarole of thatching first.

Eastern Daily Press: Shoals Cottage Shoals Cottage (Image: Broads Authority)



The unusual planning row flared up when Mr Parks put in a planning application to build an extension to his home, Shoal Cottage, in the tiny village of Irstead, near Horning.

The property, in a prominent spot on the bank of the River Ant near Barton Broad, dates back to the 1920s and was once home to a pioneer of British cinema.

It was built as a holiday home in one of the Broads' earlier tourist booms and has been extended several times in the last 100 years.

Mr Parks was granted permission to build a further extension in April 2022, but he was told he must put a thatched roof on it, so it matched the rest of the property.

In August of the same year, he went back to the Broads Authority asking to switch the materials, saying he planned to change the rest of the roof to tiles.

Mr Parks told officials he had wanted to keep the entire property thatched, but this had proved to be impractical, with a shortage of material, partly due to the war in Ukraine, and a three-year wait.

The authority rejected this bid in September 2022, insisting the extension be thatched first.

Eastern Daily Press: Shoals Cottage in 1949Shoals Cottage in 1949 (Image: Newsquest)

For the main house, Mr Parks had ‘permitted development rights’, a planning rule that means homeowners may make certain changes without planning permission, including the type of roof.

Such rights would cover the extension - meaning it could be tiled - but only after the thatching was finished.

In its rejection, the authority said: “The works are under way, and the extension has been partially built.  

“It is noted that permitted development rights do exist at the property, however the roof of the proposed extension would need to be completed in thatch and then replaced with tiles in order to benefit from this.

“The replacement of the thatch in this case would be detrimental to the character of the area and the appearance of the property.”



Following the rejection, Mr Parks decided to take the fight to the government’s Planning Inspectorate, which can overturn planning decisions where authorities have strayed from the law.  

The appeal lasted more than a year, and by the time it was heard Mr Parks had already installed a tiled roof on the main cottage.

The inspectors said: “A thatched roof on the extension would appear incongruous and would not integrate with the host dwelling as it now appears.

“In light of the change to the roof of the host dwelling, a thatched roof on the extension would be of very little, if any, value in demonstrating the cultural heritage of the Broads.”



Mr Parks said: “The Broads Authority wants to save thatched homes where they can, but homeowners do have the right to change the roof if they are not listed. 

“There have been a few around that have already changed but it seems like they wanted to put their foot down this time.

“We tried as best we could to engage a thatcher, but the waiting list was about three years and Norfolk reed is in high demand.”

He said this pushed him into changing the main roof to tiles, which became more necessary as the extension was being built, as rainwater started to get in.

“Even after we had tiled the old roof the Broads Authority said we had to thatch, that’s where it got bureaucratic, they acknowledged it could be tiled eventually but still wanted it thatched.”  

Eastern Daily Press: Matheson Lang in ShakespearMatheson Lang in Shakespear (Image: Wikimedia)


The home has been described as a “chocolate box cottage”.

It was originally a two-up, two-down property on the banks of a stretch of river known as the Irstead Shoals.

It was designed in the ‘arts and crafts’ movement style, a particularly British form of architecture that was intended to be picturesque and featured a revival of traditional techniques.

The property has been extended several times, including in the 1940s and again in 1999.

In the 1930s, it is understood to have been owned by the Canadian-born film and stage actor Matheson Lang.  

While now largely forgotten, Mr Lang was well known in his day, particularly for his Shakespearean roles, in plays including Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.  

In 1916, Lang became one of the first major theatre stars to act on film, playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.  

He appeared in more than 30 films and was considered one of Britain's leading movie stars in the 1920s.  

Eastern Daily Press: Irstead villageIrstead village (Image: ANTONY KELLY)


Irstead sits on the western bank of the Ant, one of the narrowest rivers on the Broads.  

As it flows through the village, it becomes even narrower and also shallower.  

This stretch, known as the Irstead Shoals, has a natural sand and gravel river bed, unlike the mud found elsewhere on the Broads.  

Just upstream of the village is Barton Broad, one of the largest on the waterways.  

The Broad was created in the Middle Ages, as peat was extracted from the land for fuel, and it was not originally linked to the river.  

Instead, the Ant flowed away from Irstead and passed to the east of the Broad, through an area that is now marsh and fen.  

The river was diverted through the peat workings in the mid-18th century, to allow navigation, joining up with its original course at Irstead.