In April 2015, a Surrey farmer lost his long-running battle with the planning authorities to protect a mock-Tudor castle which he had constructed behind huge bales of hay.
Robert Fidler had built the four bedroom castle on Greenbelt land he owned since the 1970s at Honeycrocks Farm in Salfords, Surrey, while obscured by a blue tarpaulin and giant hay bales.(1)
The elaborate mansion – complete with battlements, canons and a stained glass dome – was finished in 2002 but remained under cover until 2006, the aim being to use a loophole in planning regulations allowing finished structures which have stood for four years with no objections to be granted retrospective planning permission.(2)
In March 2007 Reigate and Banstead Council issued an enforcement notice requiring the building to be demolished as it had been erected without planning permission. Mr Fidler appealed the enforcement notice and in 2010 he appeared in front of the deputy high court judge Sir Thayne Forbes. The Council argued that the four year period was invalid as no one had been able to see the house and construction could not be deemed completely finished until the surrounding hay bales were removed and on this basis the appeal was dismissed.(3)
On the 18th April 2015 a ruling from Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, imposed a time limit of 90 days to demolish the house, Mr Fidler did not comply and at the time it was reported that the property was sold to an unknown buyer who believed there wasn’t a legal basis for the property to be demolished.(4) During this time it was estimated the local authority may have spent £50,000 on legal fees for this case.(5)
The farm yard and house lies deep within the London Area Greenbelt, intended to reduce urban sprawl from London and safeguard swathes of countryside. The National Planning Policy Framework, as published in 2012, states that planning permission should not be granted for new residential developments within an area of Green Belt. (6) An update to the National Planning Policy Framework in October 2014 suggested that Green Belts may restrict a local authority’s ability to reach its housing targets,(7) causing many councils to reconsider their Local Plan and may be less likely to reduce the amount of Green Belt land within their jurisdiction.(8)
In November 2015 Mr Fidler was given a three month prison sentence for failing to comply with the court ordered demolition, which was suspended on the condition that the building will be cleared by June. (9) After initially denying the rumours, he confirmed that demolition work was underway as of March 2016. Reigate and Banstead Borough Council are monitoring the situation (10) and although he hasn’t informed them of any planned demolition they have advised him regarding available options of alternative accommodation.
- Daily Mail, 2015. Farmer given 90 days to tear down mock-Tudor castle he built without planning permission and hid under a giant haystack [online]. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3044537/Farmer-given-90-days-tear-mock-Tudor-castle-built-without-planning-permission-hid-bales-hay.html [Accessed 4th June 2015]
- The Independent, 2015. Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales [online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/farmer-told-to-tear-down-mocktudor-castle-after-hiding-construction-behind-hay-bales-10186848.html] [Accessed 4th June 2015]
- The Guardian, 2010. Farmer loses fight to save home he hid behind hay bales [online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/feb/03/farmer-castle-home-haystack-demolition [Accessed 4th June 2015]
- Surrey Mirror, 2015. Salfords farmer Robert Fidler: ‘I’ve sold my castle’ [online]. Available at: http://www.surreymirror.co.uk/Salfords-farmer-Robert-Fidler-ve-sold-castle/story-26759593-detail/story.html [Accessed 21st July 2015]
- Surrey Mirror, 2015. REVEALED: The amount council has spent fighting Salfords ‘castle’ [online]. Available at: http://www.surreymirror.co.uk/REVEALED-council-spent-fighting-Salfords-castle/story-26813746-detail/story.html [Accessed 21st July 2015]
- Department for Communities and Local Government, 2014. Protecting Green Belt Land Available at: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/delivering-sustainable-development/9-protecting-green-belt-land/ [Accessed 2nd July 2015]
- Department for Communities and Local Government, 2014. Housing and economic land availability assessment Available at: http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/housing-and-economic-land-availability-assessment/stage-5-final-evidence-base/ [Accessed 2nd July 2015]
- Planning resource, 2014. Green belt guidance update prompts council to reassess local plan [online]. Available at: http://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1323914/green-belt-guidance-update-prompts-council-reassess-local-plan [Accessed 2nd July 2015]