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Planning outranks eccentricity

A tree surgeon from Nottinghamshire who built a temple of British kitsch in the Rhineland has been ordered to pack up his red phone boxes, his two double-decker buses and his 52-tonne Centurion tank after a barrage of complaints from the locals.

For a free museum that was supposed to bring the British and the Germans closer together, the venture called Little Britain is an odd piece of diplomacy.

Crammed into a suburban garden in Linz, a few miles up the Rhine from Bonn, are a wooden statue of the Mad Hatter, several Beefeaters and a very nearly life-sized model of the Red Baron’s Fokker triplane.

The museum was billed as a shrine to British eccentricity but local bureaucrats were not amused

Corgis compete for space with bulls painted with the Union Jack, plastic daffodils and the cast of the Aardman film Shaun the Sheep. In May a party of Germans trooped in to celebrate the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by taking tea and biscuits next to a seated sculpture of the Queen.

Yet now the park’s owner, Gary Blackburn, 54, has had to shut up shop after the local authority ruled that it fell foul of building regulations. The ruling was prompted by objections from neighbours and ramblers on the Kasbach valley trail, which runs next to the park and over a patch of public nature reserve leased by Mr Blackburn and his wife, Monika.

As the campaign against Little Britain gathered steam, even prompting a debate in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament, a local councillor stepped in to mediate.

In the end what sank Mr Blackburn’s venture was not his questionable taste in memorabilia but his disregard for German planning rules.

“It’s not the district administration’s job to decide whether Little Britain is a jewel or an eyesore, repulsive or enchanting, tasteless or worthwhile,” the councillors said. “Our duty is to ensure that the law is obeyed. The whole conflict is grotesque and could have proceeded much more objectively if certain basic rules were adhered to.”

Mr Blackburn, from Sherwood Forest, has conceded defeat, for the time being. “The mayor has asked us to demonstrate that we are ready to work together with the local community in a trustworthy fashion,” he wrote on his blog. “With the hopefully temporary closure of Little Britain, that is what we have done . . . So Little Britain is shut down and the Queen and Robin Hood find themselves behind closed doors.”

While the museum may have its detractors, it has also inspired a certain loyal affection in many of its visitors. Little Britain was set up two years ago with the intention of healing some of the wounds inflicted on Anglo-German relations by Brexit. And, in its own way, it has succeeded.

In July a local called Harald Hallerbach set up an online petition for the park to live on. It has gained more than 1,000 signatures and the support of the regional paper, the General-Anzeiger.

“It’s a great family initiative,” a woman called Miriam wrote on the petition website. “Little Britain was built with much love and is a terrific place to dive into another culture.”

The campaign has also run into some typically German resistance. Mirko Tomasini said: “I take my hat off to the civil servants responsible for this decision. Even to try and set up a petition against it is simply an expression of total ignorance of the relevant laws.”

 
Exeter Planning