It’s nice to see in the papers in recent days that our local planning drama seems, at long last, to be drawing to a close.
Robert Fidler owns a farm about a mile from our back door. Back at the turn of the century he started work on a four bedroom house in the farm yard. Fairly unremarkable, except that he didn’t have planning permission and had no intention of applying for it. Instead he built his house inside a shell of hay bales and covered by tarpaulins.
He was trying to take advantage of a provision in Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to the effect that where building work is carried out without planning permission enforcement action may not be taken against it if it remains uncontested for four years.
Fidler completed his house in 2002, but only removed the hay bales to reveal it in all its “glory” four years later in 2006. He made no secret of his intention to bypass the need for planning permission. What he hadn’t banked on was that the local council and the planning inspector regarded the end of the building work as being when the hay bales were removed – a position later upheld by the Courts. He’d also failed to take account of what’s called the “Connor principle” which is a general rule of public law to the effect that no-one should benefit from their own wrong.
Cutting a very long story short it finally comes down to Fidler being ordered to demolish his house or face going to prison. Reports in April and May suggest that he has finally complied after a legal battle that has cost my local council over 50,000 smackers.
Quite aside from a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing this mock-tudor eyesore reduced to corrugated iron and rubble, I am more than a little cheered that this barrack-room lawyer smartarse has at last been forced to face reality.
However, what really grinds my gears is Fidler’s pathetic attempt to portray himself as a victim and his fractious claim that the local council is out to destroy his life.
Bollocks, Robert! You deliberately set out to flout planning law, but made the most glorious pratfall. Instead of accepting with at least some level of dignity and grace that your gamble failed to pay off you have engaged in a protracted and ever more futile legal battle that has cost the ratepayer a great deal of money that could have been better spent elsewhere.
Planning law is no law unless it is enforced. If Fidler had been allowed to get away with his stunt what’s to stop your neighbour opening a pig farm in their garden?