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Castles in the Air

Only the little people pay taxes

Planners and planning departments come in for a good deal of criticism from the building community. And rightly so in a good many cases.

The planning laws can be said to be archaic, overly complicated, onerous and enforced by people to whose heads are full of the little bit of power they have been granted. The rules are designed to hark back to a golden time, which never really existed, during which each Englishman thought of his home as his castle.

Quite literally in some cases.

Robert Fidler built a huge mock Tudor castle in the leafy, green fields of Surrey and hid it for four years behind a massive stack of hay bales so no-one spotted it.

His idea was to apply for retrospective planning permission on the grounds that the building had already been standing for four years.

Alas, it has backfired on him. Reigate and Banstead Council argued that the building can’t have been deemed to have been standing for four years because, as it was hidden behind the hay bales, none of the neighbours could see it and therefore couldn’t object to it (presumably Fidler’s point in the first place.);

The case has gone all the way to the High Court and Fidler now has until June 2016 to take the building apart or face a prison term.

Part of me thinks that this is a pointless exercise and that, since the building is already up and home to his family, surely it should be left standing. But it’s only a small part of me. Most of me thinks: “Good. Throw the little blighter into jail if he doesn’t do what he’s told.”

Laws are there to be adhered to. No matter how silly we might think they are, the law is the law. It may be an ass, but it is the law. Filder’s was an act of such breath-taking arrogance, to think that he could ride roughshod over the rules that other, lesser mortals without his deep pockets, have to adhere to. He and his wife even kept their son off school the day the children were due to draw a picture of their house in art, lest the son and heir give the game away.

There have been news clips of Fidler turning up at the High Court, blustering about how the Council is trying to ruin his life and that the threat of jail should be kept for ‘real criminals”.

Sorry, pal, but being told you cannot live in a mock castle you built without permission does not constitute a ‘ruined life’ and the thing about acts that are against the law is that they either are or they aren’t. You cannot be a little bit illegal, any more than you can be a little bit pregnant.

You did something that you knew was wrong. You hoped you’d get away with it and now you’re being dealt with you are trying to weasel out of it, claiming the place is a) home to bats and newts and b) someone else’s property since you have no sold it. Just man up and deal with the consequences of your arrogance.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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