Treehouse is threatened by planners' axe: Battle lines are drawn over a den in the garden of a listed house. Peter Dunn reports

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The Independent Online
WALCOT Buildings in Bath is a tall, Georgian terrace with little antique shops and Chinese take-aways overlooking the heavy traffic of London Road and long gardens at the rear running down to the river Avon.

Here, at number 13, Nicholas Carr Linford, antiques dealer, built a log playhouse for his four young children and their friends, an inner- city refuge tucked away under a canopy of sycamore and apple trees.

It is a stout building, 14ft tall, with an inner staircase leading to a carpeted room overlooking the river, its outer wall decorated with an 18th-century turtle shell.

Rosie Wilks, Mr Carr Linford's partner and mother of Louis, nine, Oliver, six, Polly, four, and Florence, two, says proudly: 'When Nick decides to do something he does it properly.'

Nice for the children; pity it might now have to be pulled down under class E of the Town and Country Planning Order, 1988.

After complaints from a neighbour, Bath's planners have warned Mr Carr Linford that his playhouse should have had planning permission because Walcot Buildings are listed and are in mixed use as homes and shops. He has now filled in an official form and paid a pounds 60 fee asking for consent retrospectively.

City fathers will consider his planning application at the end of this month. Meanwhile, Walcot Buildings is seething with indignation and petitions.

Ms Wilks is thinking big. 'If they insist on pulling it down we can go to the Secretary of State,' she says. 'We could go as far as Europe with this. It all depends. If you start something then you start to think there's a principle at stake, don't you?'

Andrew Pegler, Bath's senior planning officer, says: 'Our enforcement officer's looked at it and said it's well constructed and not an eye sore.

'Normally in a single dwelling house you have permitted development rights to certain structures that don't need planning permission. But because the building is in mixed use it has no permitted development rights.

'It's very much an emotional argument in that it's a very nice thing for children to play in. As a father, I'd say that's absolutely right. But as a planner I have to look at it and ask if it detracts from the setting of the listed buildings in a conservation area. Emotion doesn't come into it unfortunately.'

Ms Wilks is confused. 'We didn't realise you needed permission for a temporary structure,' she says.

'Having said that, it's not causing any real harm and we've tried to make sure it blends in nicely with the trees. We put it up because there's a serious lack of children's playing facilities in this area.'

Playhouse supporters think they know the identity of the council's informant. They say she is a woman with twitching lace curtains who lives alone in a block of flats.

'I'm not going to give you any names because I don't want to upset her,' Ms Wilks said. 'She complains about children playing in the residents' car park and about people parking there when they shouldn't'

Gene Foster, an Australian antiques dealer and resident of Walcot Buildings, has written to Bath council about the alleged complainant inviting them to put her case into its proper architectural perspective.

'The abode of the person in question,' he wrote, 'is a structure of dubious aesthetic design. Those of us who are residents of Georgian houses . . . should be objecting to this visual monstrosity which we see from our gardens and rear windows - rather than the organic simplicity of a tree house, the design of which has been constructed since time immemorial by men in harmony with nature.'

(Photograph omitted)

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