House caught in the heritage trap

`Unhealthy secrecy' leaves developer with an unsaleable property on which £400,000 must be spent

Those who want to demolish listed buildings do not often attract sympathy, but the plight of a St Albans businessman must be an exception.

A week after Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, announced plans to end the "unhealthy secrecy" of the listing procedure, under which owners were told a property had been listed only after it was a fait accompli, Amerigo Brusini, 43, is experiencing the disastrous outcome of exactly that situation.

Two years ago he spent £211,000 on a derelict Thirties house in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, which had planning permission for demolition and redevelopment. The next day the house, built by the pioneer Modernist architect FRS Yorke, was listed Grade II*.

Rather than being able to demolish the Cubist-style house, known as Torilla, to build himself a family home, Mr Brusini was required to repair it. If he did not, it could be bought compulsorily by a local authority at a fraction of the price.

Yet the house had always been almost uninhabitable because of faults in its experimental design. The concrete walls and roof were too thin and lacked thermal insulation. Mould grew on walls and curtains and clothing rotted when it was heated because of excess condensation on cold walls.

This week the Department of the Environment refused Mr Brusini's appeal to be allowed to demolish and rebuild - although it did concede that "from [Mr Brusini's] viewpoint the timing of the listing of Torilla was most unfortunate".

His architect, David Lewis - who worked in FRS Yorke's practice - estimates that Mr Brusini, who has already spent £60,000 on legal fees, needs to spend £400,000 on structural repairs to make it habitable. "It used to be owned by a widow [who] progressively abandoned it. The curtains still hang there - if you look closely you can see they are rotting, like a scene from Miss Havisham's house in Great Expectations," Mr Lewis said. "Torilla was listed in 1983 but in 1984 the then Environment Secretary delisted it and gave the widow permission to demolish and rebuild. That was the position when Brusini saw it for sale. He became legal owner on 11 May 1993. The next day he was told it had been listed and that that had been effective from 23 April. Obviously he would not have bought it if he had known. Torilla is now effectively worthless unless it catches the fancy of a buyer rich enough to buy it outright and spend up to half a million pounds to make it habitable."

Mr Brusini is not entitled to compensation, which he believes is a travesty of justice. "They wanted me to repair Torilla, then they might have allowed me to build a new house on the same three-acre site," he said. "But repairing Torilla would cost at least £400,000. Even if I sold it afterwards I wouldn't nearly cover my costs. English Heritage say Torilla is such a precious building, but it has no market value."

English Heritage is not responsible for planning decisions, but Dr Diane Kay, a listing inspector responsible for 20th-century architecture at the quango, yesterday defended the listing as being "the first commission of FRS Yorke, a major figure in the introduction of the Modern movement into Britain in the 1930s".

The heritage department said: "Mr Dorrell has announced that he is bringing forward a Green Paper which will discuss the options to the current listing system."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola, writes Ian Herbert
News
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn