The house built behind bales of straw and covered by tarpaulin at Salfords, near Reigate, to hide it from the council until the expiry of the four year planning enforcement period has just been demolished by the owner, Robert Fiddler.
It has been a long time coming!
Fiddler’s appeal against the Planning Inspector’s decision to uphold the Enforcement Notice issued by the Reigate and Banstead District Council for demolition was refused as long ago as February 2010. The Court of Appeal dismissed his next appeal in September 2011. The “deliberate deception” ensured that the appeal had “no prospect whatsoever of succeeding” (per Lord Justice Sullivan). The High Court refused to lift an injunction (made by consent) in June 2014 requiring Fiddler to comply with the Enforcement Notice.
The injunction had been suspended pending the outcome of Fiddler’s appeal against the refusal of the council to grant retrospective planning permission for the house. In March 2015 The Secretary of State refused the appeal on the grounds that there were no special circumstances to justify the harm to the Green Belt caused by the house. The council pursued the matter, and within proceedings applied for contempt and committal proceedings which Fiddler tried to defend on three grounds in November last year.
The first was that in order to comply with the order to demolish, it would expose him to criminal liability since he claimed he would be interfering with or harming protected species but the court found this contention misconceived because criminal liability can only occur in relation to unlicensed harm.
The second claim was that he was no longer the owner of the property in question. He contended that the land had been sold to a third party in a document witnessed by a solicitor. A bizarrely drafted document was produced which the court had no difficulty in finding was not a legally binding transfer of the property.
The third submission alleged that the behaviour of the council had been dishonourable and deceptive, but again the court found that none of the dealings by the council justified Mr Fiddler in not complying with the Enforcement Notices. The court held that the circumstances of such “intentional defiance richly merits the marking of his contempt with a prison sentence”. A prison sentence of three months was made, but suspended until 6 June 2016 to give sufficient time to enable Mr Fiddler to arrange demolition of the house. It was made clear that if the order was not complied with, Mr Fiddler would be arrested and imprisoned on 6 June.
The huff and puff of Reigate and Banstead District Council did eventually bring the house down!