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High Court ruling knocks back farmer's secret "castle"

  A farmer who secretly built a house designed like a castle and lived in it for four years while it was hidden behind bales of straw has lost a High Court bid to block its demolition.

  A judge ruled that Robert Fidler, who built his dream home with ramparts and cannon, was not entitled to benefit from deception of Reigate and Banstead Borough Council.

  Fidler, of Honeycrock Farm in Salfords, Redhill, Surrey, went to court in an attempt to obtain planning permission to keep the building.

  The Fidler family moved into the castle when it was complete in 2002, and for four years kept it hidden from the local planning authority behind walls made of straw bales and tarpaulin.

  The farmer took away the bales in May 2006, thinking that by then his new home had become immune from planning enforcement controls as it was four years since the building works had been completed.

  However, the council issued an enforcement notice in March 2007 requiring the building should be demolished on the grounds the building had been erected without planning permission.

  In May 2008 a planning inspector rejected Fidler's subsequent appeal, saying the removal of the straw bale camouflage constituted part of the building works and concluded that the farmer could not rely on the four-year immunity period.

  Now deputy High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes has upheld the inspector’s decision after ruling against Fidler who mounted a legal challenge.

  The judge said: "In my view, the inspector's findings of fact make it abundantly clear that the erection/removal of the straw bales was an integral - indeed an essential `fundamentally related` - part of the building operations that were intended to deceive the local planning authority and to achieve by deception lawful status for a dwelling built in breach of planning control."

  The judge ruled the inspector's approach could not be faulted. “He was "plainly right to reach the conclusion that he did".

  After the ruling Fidler's solicitor, Pritpal Singh Swarn, said an appeal was being considered as the case raised important issues of planning law. "It is necessary for the courts to draw the line as to what constitutes a completed development," he said.


  Roger Milne, 4 February 2010

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