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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific