What do you call a mock Tudor Castle built without planning permission?
Well, mockery appeared to be the intention of a Surrey farmer who wanted to build his Castle on green belt land without first obtaining planning permission.
The infamous ‘Hidden Castle’ case, which started way back in 2000, returned to the High Court this week.
The Court has grown tired of Mr. Fidler, the farmer involved and handed down a suspended three month prison sentence for failure to comply with an earlier judgment in September 2011 to demolish the property within one year.
Mr. Fidler now has until 6th June 2016 to demolish his mock Tudor creation.
Local Authorities use planning legislation that includes national and local planning rules designed to protect our precious green belt.
The farmer, realising he would not obtain consent to build on his green belt land, came up with what he thought was a cunning plan.
The Town and Country Planning Act, 1990 states:
“Where there has been a breach of planning control consisting in the carrying out without planning permission of building engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of the period of four years, beginning with the date on which the operations were substantially completed.”
Hidden Castle and a Legal Loophole?
The farmer decided to hide his property behind hay bales, blue tarpaulin and tyres and wait out the 4 year period.
In 2002, the farmer and his family moved into their still very hidden, yet new, rather luxurious four-bedroom Castle with a mock Tudor effect, carved wooden pillars and beams and a stained-glass dome above the stairwell.
The farmer revealed his magnum opus in July 2006.
The Local Authority saw the grand, but unauthorised design, and issued in February 2007 an enforcement notice to the farmer to demolish the property.
So began lengthy applications, judgements and appeals.
When Did The Four Year Period Begin?
The farmer argued that the completion of his house occurred in June 2002 so he could avail himself of the 4 year rule.
The Local Authority argued that completion only occurred once the hay bales and tarpaulin were removed and the property truly revealed.
Thus, the four-year period only began in July 2006, so the period in which to enforce action had not expired.
Smoke and Mirrors
The farmer did not give up and made other applications to the effect that the house was being retained for agricultural use and, therefore, exempt.
However, both the Planning Inspectorate and Eric Pickles, the Secretary for Communities and Local Government dismissed those claims last year.
The farmer also claimed he had Bats and Newts (protected species) up his sleeve (so to speak) so he would be prevented from demolition.
No luck with that one, either.
What the Court of Appeal Decided
The Court agreed that removing the tarpaulin and hay bales was an integral part of the building operations.
One of the judges remarked:
“External appearances can be highly misleading… and authorities need to be alert to the possibility of deception.”
An Englishman’s home, contrary to the well-known saying, is not necessarily a Castle, especially one without planning permission from the Local Authority.
The farmer seems to have run out of puff and prison awaits for any further tardiness.
I recall from my youth that a House of Straw did not save the three little piggies, but a more sturdy construction did.
Neither stone nor wood has saved the farmer.
In fact, all we are missing from this modern day tale is a Judge called ‘Mr. Justice Wolf’.