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Farmer Hid Castle Behind Bales Of Straw; Court Orders Demolition

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A High Court judge has ordered the destruction of a mock Tudor castle, secretly built on farmland and hidden behind giant bales of straw, because the landowner failed to apply for planning permission.

reports Robert Fidler, 61, from Honeycrock farm, Redhill, Surrey started building the luxury four-bedroom property ("complete with ramparts, turrets, a cannon ... and two redundant grain silos transformed into towers") in 2002.

It took him two years to complete construction and he lived in the castle with his wife and son without disturbance (albeit behind haystacks and under a giant tarpaulin) from 2002 until 2006.

Mr. Fidler, a farmer by trade, converted an old cowshed on his property to build the castle.  He inquired about planning permission but the local council told him he wasn't allowed to convert the building from industrial to residential use.

According to the , he decided "to sidestep the planning system by applying for a certificate of lawfulness, sometimes applicable if no one objects to a newly-built property for four years after construction."

"They say an Englishman is entitled to have his castle.  I thought that maybe I could claim this to be my castle, and see if there was any mileage in that," Mr. Fidler explained. "It was part of my dream of being able to build and own my own house."

The plan didn't work, however.  As soon as he took down the tarp and haystacks, Reigate and Banstead council issued an enforcement notice to demolish the building.

In the council's opinion Mr. Fidler did not qualify for a certificate of lawfulness because: (1) he'd hidden the castle; and (2) construction did not end until he took down the haystacks.  The High Court agreed with this assessment and thus upheld the enforcement notice.

Mr. Fidler has vowed to fight on, however, and to take the case to the appeal court - even the European Court of Human Rights - if necessary.  "This house will never be knocked down.  This is a beautiful house that has been lovingly created.  I will do whatever it takes to keep it," he said.

Reigate councillor Mike Miller has no sympathy: "This was a blatant attempt at deception to circumvent the planning process, which particularly in the green belt is an important part of trying to protect the environment we live in."

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