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Battle of the mock castle, round (lost count)

On 26 July I posted that Mr Fidler was in breach of a court injunction obtained by the Local Planning Authority by failing to demolish his unlawfully built “mock castle”.

The local authority has now lodged a claim for contempt of court.

Reigate & Banstead Borough Council said the move followed Robert Fidler’s “failure to comply with the outstanding enforcement notices and Injunction Order in effect as a result of the Secretary of State’s ruling requiring demolition of the unauthorised house and associated structures”.

A hearing date has been set for 22 October. The local authority said that Fidler would be notified of the proceedings by personal service.

A spokesman for Reigate & Banstead said: “Mr Fidler has ignored the Secretary of State’s decision and the Injunction Order imposed on him, despite having consented to the terms of the Order and knowing the consequences if he failed to meet them.

“We are telling the High Court that Mr Fidler is in breach of its Order. It is now a matter for the Court to decide on what penalty is imposed.”

The spokesman added: “The Secretary of State’s and the earlier High Court’s decisions support the fact that if Mr Fidler’s house and related constructions are allowed to remain, it would set an unacceptable precedent for development in the Green Belt, leaving the doors open for others to disregard planning processes designed to protect our countryside from uncontrolled development.

“Local residents expect us to protect their countryside. The pleasant environment is one of the reasons they love living here.

“If we fail to act, it would give others free rein to build dwellings in the Green Belt without fear of recrimination. Reigate & Banstead Borough Council is committed to protecting the borough’s character and will continue to take firm action against anyone who deliberately breaks national and local planning rules.”

Fidler built the house, which has a mock Tudor façade and castellated towers, on Green Belt land at Honeycrock Farm in Salfords in 2000.

In 2006, when the straw bales around the house were removed, the council issued an enforcement notice.

Fidler challenged the notice, arguing that the house had stood for four years without objection.

He later applied for planning permission to retain the building as an agricultural worker’s dwelling.

The council refused this application and Fidler appealed. This suspended a High Court injunction the council had obtained requiring him to demolish the farmhouse, conservatory, patio and associated features.

A planning inspector had recommended that the house be allowed to stand for three years, but the then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles intervened on the grounds that the case raised novel issues of development control.

The minister’s decision letter said he had overturned the recommendation because of inappropriate development in the Green Belt. Pickles also rejected a claim that a beef farming operation required someone to be resident in the house to oversee it.

The Secretary of State’s ruling meant that the suspended High Court injunction took effect, leaving Fidler 90 days within which to demolish the dwelling.

In June it was widely reported that Fidler had sold the house but that the new owner was allowing his (Fidler’s) family to continue living there.

As I said in July, I foresee difficulties for the Local Planning Authority if Mr Fidler no longer owns the property; he can hardly be expected to demolish a house belonging to someone else, but I suspect the sale was not an “arm’s length” transaction.

Given the almost inevitable demolition of the house in the not too distant future who would pay anything other than a nominal amount for it (on the understanding that the Fidler  family could continue to live there)? I suspect it was sold to a mate for a quid.



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