The owner of the grade II house by Connell Ward and Lucas on the edge of Wentworth golf course, which was the subject of judicial review proceedings earlier this year, has defied listed building legislation and demolished his house without listed building consent.
The already high profile case looks set to become a major conservation battle ground with a major matter of principle at stake.
Following the High Court judgement that Runnymede Council had acted unlawfully in seeking to grant listed building consent for the demolition of Greenside, the case was reheard by the council last Wednesday. Despite receiving strong advice that demolition was not justified (from English Heritage, C20 Society and their own planning team), Runnymede councillors voted 12 to three in favour of allowing this course of action. They justified their decision on the grounds that not to allow the owner to demolish his home would infringe his human rights.
As had already been pointed out to them by the C20 Society, the Human Rights Act does not override listed building or planning legislation in this way—if it did then practically any application for demolition would be allowable and no listed building would be protected.
In the normal course of events the Council would have now consulted with the Government Regional Office (in this case GOSE –Government Office for the South East)—to request their permission to grant a consent. Without this permission the council does not have the authority to issue consent and demolition is a criminal offence. English Heritage, C20th Society and other conservation bodies were all set to lobby GOSE to demand a planning inquiry and were confident that this request would be acceded to, both because of the merits of the case, and because the implication of invoking the Human Rights Act in this way would have such a widespread impact. (I.e. we were confident that the Minister responsible would have instructed that the case be “called in” for a planning inquiry.) In the unlikely event that GOSE did not call in the case, then the C20th would have called again for judicial review.
Now all that is left of this pioneering early modern house is a heap of rubble. The selfish interests of the owner have overridden the benefits to future generations of preserving the building. C20 Society are taking legal advice, and considering prosecution of the owner as well as requesting an inquiry into the handling of the case by the local authority ombudsman.
Director Catherine Croft says: “at root this is a case about money. It would have been economically viable to renovate Greenside and provide a stunning family house, but in this location the value of the cleared plot is higher than that of the building and we believe that this is the primary reason why the owner (Mr Beadle) has demolished it. There is no doubt that he should be found guilty of flouting the law, and we will press for imprisonment or a fine commensurate with the land value he hoped to realise through this criminal act—this will mean an unprecedented fine of many millions of pounds.
“Without a conviction, and a fine of this magnitude, the Greenside case will just give the go-ahead to owners to disregard the law. This is the biggest threat to conservation in many decades.”
It is a criminal offence to demolish a listed building without listed building consent (Section 9, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990). The maximum punishment is 2 years in jail and an unlimited fine.
The decision of Runnymede Council that consent to demolish should have been granted, did not give a listed building consent. The consent had not been issued because it was being referred to the Secretary of State. The Runnymede resolution does not provide a defence to the commission of the serious criminal offence.
The Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a new house has to be reconsidered. In this Green Belt area, only replacement dwellings are permitted. There is now no building at Greenside to replace.