Dispute leaves Alice's idyll at weather's mercy: Will Bennett on a country house falling into disrepair while debate rages about its future

ALICE in Wonderland would scarcely believe the dispute that is allowing Sedgwick Park, a fine country house once famed for its ornamental gardens, to remain empty while the weather destroys it.

In its Victorian heyday, Alice Liddell, who as a child inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, spent an idyllic honeymoon there, delighted by its wide terraces, water gardens, yew hedges and views.

Country Life once described the park as occupying 'a distinguished place among the gardens of England'. But the house, a Grade II listed building near Horsham, West Sussex, now lies empty and its gardens are unkempt.

It has been unoccupied since the last private owner left in 1987. In that time, the house and its 117-acre park have been owned by three developers, the last paying about pounds 1m for it in 1989. But recession struck and the owner, Keeper Holdings Ltd, has gone into receivership. A dispute over its use and value has led to an impasse which has angered local people and conservation groups.

Tomorrow, Horsham councillors will discuss rival schemes for Sedgwick Park. But unless Lloyds Bank, from which Keeper Holdings borrowed the purchase money, changes its attitude, the deadlock will continue.

One of the schemes is being put forward by Sedgewick Estates Ltd, a development company, which has already had one plan to convert the house into flats, and build four homes in the park, turned down by the council.

The council was asked to consider the first plan as 'enabling development', whereby permission for a scheme which contravenes planning policy is granted because it would raise funds to restore a historic building. Sedgewick Estates has exchanged contracts with the receivers but is unlikely to complete the deal without planning permission.

Councillors are being recommended to reject the company's revised scheme because it contravenes planning policy. But they are being recommended to approve another plan, involving only minor alterations, from a local businessman who wants to move in with his family and restore the gardens to their former glory.

The price is the obstacle to what seems an ideal solution. Sedgewick Estates has negotiated the price down to pounds 450,000, which will mean a massive loss for the bank. The prospective private buyer has offered pounds 330,000, only pounds 20,000 less than the price estimated by the district valuation officer. But Lloyds, to the anger of local residents, rejected the businessman's bid. Brenda Shaw, spokeswoman for the Sedgwick Park Action Group, formed to preserve the house and prevent development, said: 'It is the bank which has made a financial mistake by lending money to the wrong people at the wrong time.'

Lloyds Bank said in a statement: 'We, too, would have preferred a sale on a residential basis. However, the bank has to judge in commercial terms the relative values of competing offers because of our obligation to our shareholders and customers.'

Concern is growing about the state of the house which has deteriorated recently with outbreaks of dry rot and leaks. The council is to issue an urgent repairs notice and carry out work worth pounds 40,000. But Tony Curtis, Horsham's chief planning officer, said that unless a permanent solution was found before next winter, 'we can expect very rapid deterioration'.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most