Illegally-built house hidden in haystack, inquiry told

A FARM owner has been accused of building a house in a haystack to hide it.

The claim was made by a lawyer representing Reigate and Banstead Borough Council at an inquiry to decide whether a farmer can keep two houses, a marquee and racetrack built without planning permission.

Robert Fidler in turn accused the council of misleading him on what he could build and taking an unlawful amount of time to answer planning applications.

Mr Fidler owns Honeycrock Farm in Axes Lane, Salfords, which is on green belt land protected from development. The council issued him with eight enforcement notices last year.

If a Government-appointed inspector upholds the notices, within six months he will have to tear down a farmhouse, conservatory, marquee and timber bridge and remove a hardstanding parking area, patio, timber decking and a Tarmac race track. The tenants of the farmhouse would have six months to leave.

Mr Fidler, who represented himself at the inquiry, said the farmhouse had been built with the council's knowledge and planning officers knew it was under construction in 2001, despite the enforcement notice being served in 2007. It was possible to appeal if a planning breach occurred more than four years before a notice was served.

Rupert Warren, representing the council, said: "Mr Fidler's case is that the building was substantially completed more than four years before the issue of the notice, having been deliberately constructed and concealed in a large haystack. The council is unconvinced that it can be properly said the house in question was complete while encased in straw."

He added: "The house is contrary to green belt and countryside policy and there are no very special circumstances. It would urbanise the countryside and should be refused."

The Tarmac racetrack, he added, also breached green belt and countryside policy.

The inquiry will also consider two appeals taken by Mr Fidler to the High Court and Court of Appeal concerning a barn conversion and the use of a farm building used variously for dealing in hay and straw and as a haulage depot and building and demolition contractors' depot.

Mr Fidler said the building had been used as a depot since the early 1970s, although an enforcement notice had not been issued until 1992. A council planning officer had led him to believe he could use the agricultural building for industry, he maintained, and he only knew better now.

The 13th and final planning decision being considered is an application for recreation and leisure use of Mr Fidler's land and lake. Mr Fidler stated that the council did not determine it within the target timescale.

He said: "I think a reasonable period for planning applications to be answered is within a matter of months. My applications have very often gone into years and quite often not been determined."

"If they had got on with it I would have had a reasonable chance to get on with my life. I have learned over the years the only way to get planning permission is to use alternative methods, perfectly legal but risky, that allow room to do this." The inquiry will resume tomorrow.

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