Neville scores an own goal over work on £12m house

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The Independent Online

The scaffolding is up and the windows are boarded in the dream home on the hill built for a top footballer. Gary Neville's new £12m manor seems to be causing him more aggravation than his broken ankle.

Where his home now stands, there used to be a small village built around a Georgian farmhouse. The old buildings were falling down for lack of money. Now there is an expensive new mansion, which looks rather like something out of the television soap Footballers' Wives.

The Manchester United and England full-back had promised his bride, Emma Hadfield, 26, that he would carry her over the threshold of their moorland home on their wedding day last June, and was as good as his word. But the arrival of millionaire footballer in a little rural community has not been free of trouble.

Local people were disturbed by the constant coming and going of builders' vehicles. Then, on the wedding day in June, a fleet of limousines sped through the country lanes, bringing the well-heeled guests to the celebration.

Then it went quiet until this week, when the scaffolders turned up again. This time, one of the neighbours had put in a formal complaint to Bolton council, who sent in planning enforcement officers to see whether the footballer had embarked on major building work without permission. He hadn't.

A council spokeswoman said: "There is no work that would breach the existing planning consent."

Neville, 32, reputedly fell in love with the Lancashire moorland between Bolton and his boyhood home in Bury 10 years ago. In 2004, he bought the farmstead which has magnificent views of north Wales on a clear day.

The farmhouse dates back to Tudor times, though it was rebuilt in 1784. It was then part of a village which was home to 14 families. In 1851, according to the census, the village had 60 inhabitants.

But the hamlet was in a sorry state by the time Neville bought the land. The farmhouse had belonged to six generations of the Joule family, but James Joule was in his 80s, and agreed to sell for £2m.

The future Mr and Mrs Neville hired an architect, who promised to design a "sensitive construction".

Town planners at Bolton council were impressed. Their report said that the site was "at risk of deteriorating beyond repair unless it attracts significant investment", and that an injection of some of the £70,000 a week that Manchester United pays its captain "will restore the site as a hamlet so it can remain as a long-term part of the area".

About 200 builders moved in to construct the 12-bedroom manor, complete with a private golf course, cinema, swimming pool, stables and gym, in time for the wedding. The old hamlet is also to be developed, creating 11 new properties for sale.

What the planners apparently overlooked is how a tightly knit rural community might take to these wealthy arrivals from the city. When the old farmer decided to sell his land, he evidently decided not to consult his relatives, who own a nearby farm.

Joyce Joule, 54, said: "James never told us he was selling to a footballer because he probably had a good idea what was going to happen."

Colin Corless, whose farm is the nearest building to the mansion, was equally underawed by his famous neighbour.

He said: "This guy came across and said something like, 'Hi, do you know who I am?' When I said I hadn't a clue he said, 'I'm Gary Neville – you know, the Manchester United and England football player'.

"When I told him I didn't follow football he looked puzzled and asked if I was interested in selling my place. I told him I wasn't."

But another neighbour, Alan Whitefield, praised Mr Neville as a "nice lad" who was "doing a lot of good round here".