The Final Straw
You might have seen some coverage of this case in the national press recently concerning a gentleman by the name of Mr Fidler, who boldly built, what some would consider, quite the fairy tale castle without planning permission only to try to conceal it behind 40 feet of hay bales for a period of 4 years.
The reason for Mr Fidler cloaking the construction of his mock tudor castle with hay bales was so that he could benefit from Section 171B of the Town & County Planning Act 1990. This provides that no enforcement action can be taken against the breach of operational development (in this case building) if a period of 4 years has expired, beginning on the date which operations were “substantially completed”. Broadly equivalent provisions apply in NI under Article 67B of the Planning (NI) Order 1991.
The house had been completed in June 2002 and was concealed until July 2006. A number of enforcement notices were issued in February 2007 and Mr Fidler appealed against them on the basis that, amongst other reasons, the 4 year time limit for taking action had expired.
The Judge held (Fidler v Secretary of State  EWHC 143) that the erection and removal of the straw bales when considered in isolation did not itself constitute a building operation. However, on the facts of the case the straw bales formed part of the totality of the building operations. The Court found that Mr Fidler had deliberately erected the bales to conceal his castle and, it was always his intention to remove them once the 4 year enforcement period expired. This justified the conclusion that the erection and removal of the straw bales formed part of the entirety of the building operations which Mr Fidler originally intended to carry out. Therefore, the building operations were not in fact completed and the 4 year enforcement period had not expired until the bales were removed.
Mr Fidler had, with the help of the straw bales, hoped to achieve by deception a lawful status for his castle which was built in breach of planning control. The High Court ordered Mr Fidler, on 3rd February 2010, to remove his dwelling. So Mr Fidler’s argument that “an Englishman is entitled to have his castle” did not stand the test of the Court in the end!
For further information on issues raised in this article please contact Andrew Ryan, Head of Environment and Planning,
Tel: +44 (0)28 9082 0527 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org