Fate of farmer's hidden castle is sealed

Building hidden behind bales of straw for four years will have to be demolished
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The Independent Online

He huffed and he puffed, but a farmer will still have to knock his house down, a court has ruled.

Surrey farmer Robert Fidler suspected he may not receive planning permission for a mock Tudor castle built on his land in Salford, near Redhill. So hoping to capitalise on a legal loophole, he constructed it hidden behind bales of straw and a tarpaulin, and has lived in it for four years, all the while leaving Reigate and Banstead council in the dark over its existence. But yesterday he lost a High Court battle to prevent its demolition.

Mr Fidler, 61, built the luxury four-bedroom property, complete with ramparts, turrets and cannon, over two years, and lived in it with his wife and son. He hoped to sidestep the planning system by applying for a certificate of lawfulness, sometimes applicable if no one objects to a newly built property for four years after construction. He kept the property secret from 2002, when it was finished, until 2006. When Mr Fidler removed the bales he believed the structure would no longer be subject to planning enforcement.

But Reigate and Banstead council issued an enforcement notice in March 2007 requiring the castle's demolition on grounds he had erected it without planning permission.

The High Court was asked to decide whether the removal of the straw bales and tarpaulin was, in the eyes of the law, part of the building operation.

Deputy High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes 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."

Mr Fidler still claims the castle is not illegal despite the ruling and pledged to take his fight to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. He said: "This house will never be knocked down. This is a beautiful house that has been lovingly created. I will do whatever it takes to keep it."

The property includes a kitchen, living room, study, shower room and toilet and separate WC.

On the first floor, there are four bedrooms and another room still being fitted as a bathroom.

After the hearing Mr Fidler's solicitor, Pritpal Singh Swarn, said an appeal was being considered: "The judge appears to have left open the big question – when is a building substantially complete? It is necessary for the courts to draw the line as to what constitutes a completed development."