Fidler Loses Roof

The peculiarities and frustrations of the planning regime are well known to anyone who has sought to undertake development activity in this country. Frequently landowners and developers seek advice from learned advisors on how best to exploit any loopholes or chinks in the system. But perhaps no one has gone as far as Mr Fidler and his house of straw.

In 2002 Mr Fidler, without the benefit of planning permission, completed his house (or mock castle complete with turrets). Well aware of the risk of enforcement action, he concocted a cunning plan to completely surround the house with straw bales and tarpaulin so that the house itself was not visible. Most remarkably of all he then lived in the house complete with bales for the next four years.

After four years had elapsed he removed the bales so that the house was visible for all to see. Not surprisingly Reigate and Banstead Council subsequently took enforcement action seeking removal of the house.

Mr Fidler appealed against the enforcement notice arguing that the house had become immune from enforcement action after four years. On appeal the Inspector (subsequently supported by the Courts) held that the four year period started to run from the time the development was substantially complete. In this case the house was only substantially complete once the bales had been removed. On this basis the Council was within the statutory timeframe for service of the enforcement notice.

In some ways it is hard not to applaud Mr Fidler's resourcefulness (as well as his fortitude in living in a house surrounded by bales for four years). It is however difficult to sympathise too much following such a flagrant attempt to breach planning control.

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