Sir Bernard's four-year battle with the builder next door

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The Independent Online
Sir Bernard Ingham, Baroness Thatcher's former press secretary, is engaged in a feud with his neighbour after losing a four-year battle to force him to tear down an extension to his bungalow.

Sir Bernard is now putting his combative talents to use in a campaign against bullying builders. But the neighbour Barry Cripps, a builder, claims that Sir Bernard, now a columnist with the Daily Express, is himself a bully who cannot accept defeat.

Mr Cripps, 40, says his wife Linda, 27, has been badly upset by the long-running row and in particular by an article about it three weeks ago in the Daily Star, an Express Group tabloid. The story ended with the question 'Have you ever been bullied by a builder?' It asked for readers to write in and promised to pass on the worst cases to Sir Bernard.

But in a letter to the Star, Coun Adrian Dennis, a Labour member of Croydon council's planning committee, said he had never known a worse example 'of harassment and intimidation of householders by a local planning authority, apparently at the instigation of an influential neighbour'. He said Mr and Mrs Cripps had been through four years of hell for a 'perfectly ordinary loft conversion'. The planning decision had been 'a victory for the common person and common sense', but Sir Bernard was now using his press influence to get at the Cripps.

Sir Bernard, who has lived in his house in Purley, south London, for 20 years, insists he and his other neighbours have been badly served by Croydon council.

He claims Mr Cripps has carried out six separate building projects without planning permission since he moved in, in 1988. He cannot understand why the council took two years to tell Mr Cripps to take down the pounds 70,000 loft extension and then two years later reversed the decision. When the Cripps and their five-year-old son moved in, Sir Bernard attended the house-warming party. But when the new arrivals began building, relations turned sour.

The Cripps have created three rooms in the loft conversion and built two garages, a sauna and a new front drive. Mr Cripps' company specialises in loft conversions and his home has featured in a women's magazine. He is proud of his work. 'One planning inspector has described my home as an attractive chalet bungalow,' he said. But Sir Bernard told planning officers he was 'heartily sick of living next door to an unauthorised building site'. He claimed that the conversion was out of character, that the Cripps' roof shut out light to his home and that the Cripps had stolen more than a foot of his garden for their drive. He intends to go to the High Court with the complaint.

In a letter to the Croydon Advertiser last Friday, Sir Bernard listed eight complaints about the Cripps, including their construction of 'a so-called sauna' on a back garden, raised despite his earlier objections. He also complained about the coloured lights they strung around their roof after winning the planning dispute last month. The lights have been left to twinkle their way towards Christmas. Mr Cripps says it is unsurprising that the family celebrated with light after winning the dispute. He thinks Sir Bernard should let things rest. He said: 'I used to vote Conservative, but he has disillusioned me.'

But Sir Bernard said: 'The Cripps have caused nothing but trouble since they arrived here. My main objection is that they have done all this work without planning permission and without consulting their neighbours. I have no truck with them.'