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"I understand there is also a cannon."
January 25, 2008 7:33 AM   Subscribe

London farmer Robert Fidler built his dream house, complete with Tudor-style turrets, and lived in it for four years to skirt local planning laws, by hiding it the entire time behind a giant mountain of hay.
posted by XQUZYPHYR (100 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't think it reflects too badly on me when I enjoy seeing people with an exaggerated sense of entitlement suffer. Tear it down.
posted by vbfg at 7:35 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


And thus the dialectic is set...
posted by Burhanistan at 7:39 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I liked it. Clever and a nice house to boot. Game the system!
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:42 AM on January 25, 2008


No one seems to have had the slightest problem with the giant ugly pile of hay covered by blue tarps. If the house is so much worse, then put some more hay up. Problem solved.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:43 AM on January 25, 2008 [19 favorites]


I wish I had known this before I wasted four months waiting for the Zoning Board of Appeals to grant me a building permit.
posted by bondcliff at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2008


I'm sorry I've always wanted to build a castle on farm land in the middle of nowhere. How many people get to live in a castle at this day and age? I'll bid my bow to his service!!!! And he can count on my steel!!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:44 AM on January 25, 2008 [9 favorites]


I like the house. And it's much less of an eyesore than an enormous pile of hay bales.

Of course, they can't let him keep it because of the precedent it sets, so I'm sure it'll be torn down.
posted by notmydesk at 7:45 AM on January 25, 2008


I don't understand why Yahoo repeatedly does stories where you need pictures or it is useless, and has no pictures in the story, or you have to click a link on the left, to get one random picture taken of something similar from 8 years ago.

Yet almost invariably they have those dancing silhouette insurance ads on every fucking report. I hate that. It makes me gnash my teeth. I imagine hell must just be those damn silhouettes dancing in front of an eternal fire.
posted by cashman at 7:46 AM on January 25, 2008 [13 favorites]


"It looks like a mock-Tudor house from the front and it's got two turrets at the back," the spokeswoman said. "I understand there is also a cannon."

That, frankly, is awesome.
posted by jedicus at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't think it reflects too badly on me when I enjoy seeing people with an exaggerated sense of entitlement suffer.

Huh? Did you read the articles? (Judging by the timestamp I'm honestly unsure) You make it sound like he's a squatter or something... this wasn't in the middle of a park, it was on his farmland. I tend to imagine owning a farm gives one a sense of entitlement, what with, you know, owning the title to it. I don't think you can do whatever you want with land you own, but it's not like he wanted to run a railroad through it without consulting the government; he built a house there, using what he perceived as a clever strategy to act within the law, and the fact that he hid it for over four years behind a haystack sort of gives testament to how much attention the planning council paid to the land.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:50 AM on January 25, 2008 [9 favorites]


The FPP had me cheering for the guy but the article somehow turned me against him.
posted by DU at 7:52 AM on January 25, 2008


He's got cannons, does the building inspector have bigger cannons? What's he worried about...?
posted by HuronBob at 7:55 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love the round kitchen set in the castle's turret. Can't they just fine him and let the house stand? He did, technically, have it up four years without a complaint. And it does look better than a bunch of hay. I think the planning council is just playing silly buggers with him because they were made to feel foolish.
posted by misha at 7:56 AM on January 25, 2008


If you're going to circumvent planning regulations in that way, it's probably a good idea to make sure you have a sound legal basis beforehand.

Mark my words, it'll probably end in a siege...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:59 AM on January 25, 2008


It's his land. Who cares what kind of house he builds on it? Anyway, tearing it down would be a total waste of building materials and energy. Fine him, maybe, but let him keep his house!
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:59 AM on January 25, 2008


It's good to see so many people on Metafilter who are in favor of expansive private property rights and against government intervention. And there I was thinking that Metafilter was full of "liberals."
posted by The World Famous at 8:05 AM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't think you can do whatever you want with land you own, but it's not like he wanted to run a railroad through it without consulting the government; he built a house there, using what he perceived as a clever strategy to act within the law, and the fact that he hid it for over four years behind a haystack sort of gives testament to how much attention the planning council paid to the land.

It's also ample testament to his understanding of the steps he and everyone else across the length and breadth of the land have to take to legally build a house. It's a small country, largely urban with house prices that left the realms of reality quite some time ago. Farmers don't have the right to game the system in order to take land out of food production for ever for their own short term profit through their temporary ownership of that land.

YMMV, especially when the number of miles between you and anyone else is greater than it can ever be on a small island with 65 million other people on it.

XQUZYPHYR: Huh? Did you read the articles?

Yes, and I read a couple of others about it earlier today linked elsewhere. Tear it down.
posted by vbfg at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think the key thing is that it's on green belt. If you live in the USA or Canada, or Australia, where there is any amount of empty land, I don't think you are likely to appreciate the significance of that - this 'castle' would bite away forever one more bit of the green space which was supposed to stop London swamping the entire south of England.

Moreover, if it's allowed to stand, he's made a huge profit, which is surely the real motivation. The value when he bought it, on the understanding that it couldn't be built on, would have been way lower than the sums he can get for it as building land, with or without the house.
posted by Phanx at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised at how many people here are against Mr. Fidler. Why support a bureacratic mess that dictates what people can do with their own property? It's not like he hurt anyone. In fact, his new home will probably raise surrounding property values if allowed to stand.
posted by hjo3 at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2008


And when the guy tears down his castle to reveal a 30 foot tall dildo, the planning board is going to be even more upset at their phallic victory.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:10 AM on January 25, 2008 [13 favorites]


why not just carve a home out of the haybales? problem solved.
posted by camdan at 8:12 AM on January 25, 2008


In fact, his new home will probably raise surrounding property values if allowed to stand.

Yep, London's commuter belt sure needs that. He could use it as an argument in court.

"I'm partly responsible for your children still living with you well into their 30s cos there's nowhere they can afford."

That should work a treat.
posted by vbfg at 8:14 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's good to see so many people on Metafilter who are in favor of expansive private property rights and against government intervention. And there I was thinking that Metafilter was full of "liberals."

Oh drop the libertarian snark, please. How does me being a liberal, or for that matter imminent domain law, apply here? Aside from it being in England, not the U.S., Fidler was following (or at least he'll be arguing in court) actual law- it says if they don't object for four years, he's in the right. The Kelo case, for example, was ruled that the law favored the government's position. I don't always agree with all legal decisions but you seem to be suggesting that finding this story amusing makes me a hypocrite for not supporting a completely different legal issue in another country, which I find, well, dumb.

If there's an issue in play here regarding the economic impact of the removal of farmland toward the living property (for example, I guess if there are problems related to plumbing/sewage and electrical access), I'd at least understand that case and the government's position. But again, it appears he applied a law to his favor here. If it was legal across the board for the government to say they had the right to tear his house down for greater community/safety issues, I'd understand. That doesn't seem to apply here.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:16 AM on January 25, 2008


I think I've found it on Google Maps.

Right across the street there's what appears to be a gypsy traveller camp. I wonder if Daily Mail readers would be quite so sympathetic to them.
posted by cillit bang at 8:16 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that if it's going to be torn down, they'll need a trebuchet to do it properly.

I hope they let him keep it. Nice house!
posted by disclaimer at 8:20 AM on January 25, 2008


Seems like an open and shut case. He knew the planning laws and decided to try and circumvent them. I've no sympathy. It's not bureaucracy gone mad. Just because he owns the land, doesn't mean he can do whatever he wants with it.
posted by salmacis at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2008


I'm surprised at how many people here are against Mr. Fidler.

The dividing line in opinion appears, so far, to be the Atlantic.
posted by vbfg at 8:26 AM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


What would be cool now is if the inspectors built some sort of giant hay Trojan horse and put it at the end of his driveway.

It's a good thing that this didn't end badly. I would imagine packing a fast burning material all the way around your under-construction house seems like a recipe for disaster.
posted by quin at 8:29 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


"It's his land. Who cares what kind of house he builds on it? "

I worked in Reigate for four years. Its a very, very stuffy little town, everything is just so. They like it how it is, and it's gonna stay that way.

That being said, I own a flat in Central London, Zone 2. The 'hood about my flat ain't nothing to look at but our estate is in what's called a Conservation Area, so we can't do squat with the outside of the flat. We'd love to convert the garden to a conservatory, but we made the mistake of asking permission. Which, of course, we didn't get. A few of us in the building are now carefully watching someone across the green space behind are flat as they'd just gone ahead and done it. Its been up for about eight months now, and at the one year point Tower Hamlets can't force them to pull it down.
posted by Mutant at 8:29 AM on January 25, 2008


Aw, zoning is teh suck. Circular rooms for the win.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:32 AM on January 25, 2008


vbfg: ""I'm partly responsible for your children still living with you well into their 30s cos there's nowhere they can afford."."

If there's a shortage of affordable housing wouldn't it make make more sense to encourage people to build houses? Supply and demand and all that.
posted by octothorpe at 8:34 AM on January 25, 2008


Do like they do here in NYC, let them keep the illegal penthouse they snuck into an "ornamental" spire, but make them provide equal space elsewhere in the building for free dance rehearsals. In his his case, have him give over a room for a daycare program.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


...problems related to plumbing/sewage and electrical access...

I think you're misunderstanding the situation. This is not a remote rural area we're talking about, it's the heavily built-up edge of London. There's only a farm there because for many decades the land has been reserved to create a kind of breathing space. It remains to be seen whether the subterfuge of the hay bales is legal, but even if it is, it's a selfish and greedy scheme.
posted by Phanx at 8:39 AM on January 25, 2008


The issue is not that he built a nice house that is now threatened with destruction by the big bad authorities; the issue is that he built ANYTHING on a patch of land that clearly was in contravention of local rules. I live in a city (Ottawa) that is pretty damned protective of its building codes, especially as they apply to our green space. It's one of the reasons I like this city. If my idea of urban beauty were concrete, glass and steel, I'd move to Toronto.

Land ownership in and of itself is not a licence to do whatever the hell you want on that land. You're part of a larger community and when you choose to live there, you implicitly agree to conform to the rules.

The fact that he went to such incredible lengths to do an end run around the rules indicates he was dotted-i, crossed-t familiar with the law, but his "incredible lengths" still do not absolve him of the punishment that goes with being caught out.

(That being said, I love the thoroughness of the planning -- even to the extent of keeping junior home from school the day the class art project was "draw a picture of your house".)

Bottom line? Nice try, Arthur Dent; now take some photos for the family album and get yourself down to the pub for a few pints because we're tearing it down.
posted by Mike D at 8:40 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


octothorpe, that might be fine if there was limitless space. But however much demand there is, the supply of land is not going to increase.
posted by Phanx at 8:42 AM on January 25, 2008


He's got cannons, does the building inspector have bigger cannons? What's he worried about...

Trebuchets?
posted by dersins at 8:43 AM on January 25, 2008


Leave it to MetaFilter to take a story about building a castle and hiding it in a giant pile of hay for four years and turn it into a debate about property rights.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:44 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let it stand. By the way, the green belt is being eroded and farmland has been going out of production in the UK for years - if he'd said it was a Golf Club clubhouse I bet he'd have been given permission
posted by A189Nut at 8:44 AM on January 25, 2008


In the time I've spent in England, I always had the impression that everything was neat and ordered. That someone had come along and said, "This field here, that stream there, and dear lord, that tree needs to be moved five feet to the left!" If it makes sense, I'd say it feels like a very lived in country, when compared to the United States. The English military historian John Keegan referred to his home as "a tiny gardened island," and a place where the last wilderness vanished thousands of years ago.

I think a major difference is that in America, we recognize that we jointly own some land through the government, from parks to simple wide swathes of the West, but we also own our own land, and with it, we can do or not do nearly anything with exception to people sign over such freedoms in suburban neighborhoods. In England, though, it seems, and this is my own proposition, that there is a sense of collective ownership. Yes, you own that parcel of land, but its really a part of England, and England belongs to all of us. Its like the ownership of the earth from the English Channel to the Irish Sea, once the possession of the crown, has devolved down to the people.

As an American, I find a great disdain for what is happening to Mr. Fidler. Its his land, he should do what he likes on it. But, the English have made the laws they live by. They can either keep 'em, or change 'em, its their right. I, of course, extend an invitation to Mr. Fidler to move to my neighborhood. I think it'd be a hoot to have a house like that for my neighbor. ;)
posted by Atreides at 8:49 AM on January 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Leave it to MetaFilter to take a story about building a castle and hiding it in a giant pile of hay for four years and turn it into a debate about property rights.

XQUZYPHYR, in fairness, a debate about property rights is at the heart of this story.
posted by brain_drain at 8:51 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Boy, everyone's against Gentrification.

[ha!]

I think the law has inadequately provided for acts of whimsy.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:54 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Do English "planning" authorities in England just deal with aesthetic issues, or are they also in charge of maintaining building standards and making sure things are built to code? Because from reading the articles, it seems like you could build just about anything as flimsily as you'd like and the only people who'd ever have a say about it would only be concerned with what it looked like. If there was a separate building safety authority, then the house should have also been processed through them (and at that point, it's really more of a public safety issue than a property rights, "I can do what I want on my land!" thing), and they should have required the house to be approved by a planning commission before giving permission to build.

If the house was built without approval from a building safety official, and was never inspected during construction to make sure it was being built to code, then the house should be torn down regardless of what it looks like or whether other people object to it or love it; it's a potential hazard to public safety due to possible lapses in construction practices, non-conformance to structural and electrical standards, plumbing and sewage standards, etc.

Basically the articles are total bullshit, hyping the public controversy issue rather than the very real issues of how buildings need to meet certain standards. And even if it's just a planning issue, I'd think that transforming a building from a giant stack of hay bales to a castle constitutes a major remodel.
posted by LionIndex at 8:55 AM on January 25, 2008


If there's a shortage of affordable housing wouldn't it make make more sense to encourage people to build houses? Supply and demand and all that.

Castles in rural Surrey aren't really affordable housing, but I take your point. There is a finite amount of space here though. This isn't Phoenix expanding into the desert. These are a very large number of towns and cities, almost merged into one, trying to preserve something of their own identity, something of the local natural habitats, and something of the English idea of warm beer and villages with pretty roofs all at the same time.

Solving that issue does indeed involve building more housing, but leaving it solely to the market isn't really an option.
posted by vbfg at 9:00 AM on January 25, 2008


As long as he keeps the moat properly stocked, I can't see how he'll have a problem.
posted by LordSludge at 9:14 AM on January 25, 2008


The problem is that it is such a cool house. If it was some horrible suburban cloned McMansion, of course we'd all want it torn down. But it's awesomely weird. Therefore, the liberal bias towards zoning and preserving green space gets conflicted by the liberal bias towards the funky and unclassifiable. And I say that as a card carrying liberal (Really. I used to co-host Drinking Liberally and I kept the cards.) So I see the council's point and the very good points everyone is making about why it should go but at the same time, damn, that's a great house. What if they let it stand, but don't let him ever sell it and then when he dies it becomes a museum or something? Pity that's probably too sane.

Also, eponysterical!
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:17 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


As an American, I find a great disdain for what is happening to Mr. Fidler. Its his land, he should do what he likes on it.

I've always assumed Americans felt like this. That's obviously how they've allowed that horrendous exurban sprawl that covers so much of your country to grow and the vile strip mall that you see everywhere to pile up. I understand that you like it that way, and don't much care about the impact that it has on your cities, or its impact on your transport policy -- because lets face it, you don't really have one other than consume, consume, consume.

Here though, we live on a tiny little island. We like our cities to be cities, and our countryside to be countryside. If Mr Fidler is allowed to whap up his eyesore uncontested, then you can bet your bottom dollar that the guy on the next farm will throw up a whole housing estate full of them. Followed by the farm after his, the farm after his and the farm after his.

That happens, and we'll end up with a country as ugly as Florida.

I think the law has inadequately provided for acts of whimsy.

You think wrong. He can build all the whimsical bullshit he likes on land that has planning permission to be used as building land. Provided its outside a conservation area, of course.

Bottom line: everyone knows what the regulations are here. If your attempt to subvert them fails, don't be surprised at the lack of sympathy for your anti-social bullshit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:19 AM on January 25, 2008 [12 favorites]


We could reach a compromise with Daily Mail readers by evicting this cheeky sod and using it as a detention centre for people who deny Diana was killed as part of a vast shadowy conspiracy.
Also, vbfg has been right in everything he has said.
posted by Abiezer at 9:22 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tear it down. This idea that you can build whatever you want, whether it's a faux castle, a strip mine, or a split level on anything you "own" without regards to your community is stupid and selfish. The people who would let this stand are the same people who would gladly cut down the last old growth cedar and level the last Appalachian mountaintop to get at a bit of coal.

Land "ownership" is mainly about "stewardship."

This is the equivalent of forgiving a murderer because he's handsome.
posted by maxwelton at 9:24 AM on January 25, 2008


Do English "planning" authorities in England just deal with aesthetic issues, or are they also in charge of maintaining building standards and making sure things are built to code?

I believe planning permission deals with the effects on the surrounding area, including aesthetics, and also how well it fits in with the area development plan, if there is one. After that, construction is overseen by regular visits from a Buildings Inspector, who looks for design flaws and checks for quality of work and so on.

But it'd all be the same department at the council, so I doubt he'd have risked contacting them.
posted by cillit bang at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2008


These are a very large number of towns and cities, almost merged into one, trying to preserve something of their own identity, something of the local natural habitats, and something of the English idea of warm beer and villages with pretty roofs all at the same time.

It seems like the solution then ought to involve halting immigration and allowing the overall population to decline, rather than trying to retain some sort of bygone past through draconian regulation. If it's a struggle now, it's only going to get worse the more people you add.

I don't think you can have your cake and eat it, too; traditional villages, rural life, and low-yield agriculture just do not mix with high population densities. No amount of regulation is going to fix that, and it seems like there's the strong possibility of creating a huge amount of tension by trying.

I've watched the same thing happen to parts of New England over the past few decades, and zoning laws really don't do much except piss people off and buy you a year or two here and there. Once you have to start regulating in order to preserve that "village feel," you've already lost -- you're not a village anymore, just a suburb with pretensions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:31 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


maxwelton: Thats absurd. We only let our murders go when they are famous, not merely pretty.
posted by absalom at 9:35 AM on January 25, 2008


I believe planning permission deals with the effects on the surrounding area, including aesthetics, and also how well it fits in with the area development plan, if there is one. After that, construction is overseen by regular visits from a Buildings Inspector, who looks for design flaws and checks for quality of work and so on.

But it'd all be the same department at the council, so I doubt he'd have risked contacting them.


That's exactly the way it works here. Which is why I find it hard to believe that this building has been reviewed by anybody. If I were to try to build something in the US, I'd certainly have to have proof that I'd already had the building approved by planning before getting a building permit, and if I decided to change the design in the course of construction, the building inspector would force me to go back to planning to get it approved, and I wouldn't be able to move into the building until the building inspector said so, so there's no way of getting around that.
posted by LionIndex at 9:36 AM on January 25, 2008


Planning commission: "I'll huff and I'll puff..."
Mr. Fidler: "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin..."
posted by robot at 9:39 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look at the satellite view on google maps, zoom out a bit, go north a little and see what the building density is like north of the m25. If the green belt wasn't protected it would probably be like that all the way to the south coast. meh. We've got a few thousand units of affordable housing coming to the area; that's good, we need it. We don't need a castle...
posted by muteh at 9:39 AM on January 25, 2008


Well, PeterMcDermott, tell me how you really feel about the American landscape. I wasn't aware that a belief in principal right of land ownership was also an absolute bid for support for strip malls and cookie cutter neighborhoods. While I do disdain what is happening, if you'd included the sentence that followed, you would have at least acknowledged that I respected the right for the English voices to respond negatively towards Fidler. Your country, your right.

Going along other Americanisms, I do think that a lot of Americans like it when we see someone "stick it to the man," so to speak. This man wanted to build something genuinely interesting, if not fascinating, and he used a clever means to skirt, but not break, the rules to do it. We like to root for people like that in America.


Now pardon me while I go finish polishing my collection of 200 firearms. The howitzer is next.
posted by Atreides at 9:42 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


PeterMcDermott: How beautiful/unique/cool/artisinal/special does some illegal thing have to be before the law would be working against the public good? Is the state justified in painting over all the Banksy grafitti? Of course, the builder isn't that special, and it's not so vital to me that the house stands, but the law's inability to compromise in this and other cases is a sign of fault.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:42 AM on January 25, 2008


It's just fugly. But I think he should be allowed to keep it cos it's also freaking hilarious. Too much like a McMansion for my taste. Oh, and Surrey.
posted by Lleyam at 9:45 AM on January 25, 2008


No amount of regulation is going to fix that, and it seems like there's the strong possibility of creating a huge amount of tension by trying.

I'd rather the tension that comes from the hope of trying than the tension that comes from being in the middle of a city that is 200 miles across in every direction.

Once you have to start regulating in order to preserve that "village feel," you've already lost -- you're not a village anymore, just a suburb with pretensions.

Thus it has been in Surrey since about 1666.
posted by vbfg at 9:45 AM on January 25, 2008


Is the state justified in painting over all the Banksy grafitti?

Absolutely. Grafitti, by it's very nature, is ephemeral. Banksy knows this when he creates his work. If he objected to it, presumably he'd operate within another medium.

Similarly, the guy who built this house absolutely knew what the regulations were and what the consequences were likely to be once discovered. If he didn't, he wouldn't have erected the hay stack around it. There was absolutely nothing stopping him from purchasing a piece of land that had planning permission and erecting his building on that, but he wanted to try and gain the economic benefit to be had from gaming the system.

If I come along and conceal your car by hiding it in a big builders skip, should I then be allowed to keep it once you've forgotten its there and bought a new one?

Of course, the builder isn't that special, and it's not so vital to me that the house stands, but the law's inability to compromise in this and other cases is a sign of fault.

You're as wrong as wrong can be. If the law were to compromise on issues like this, we'd all lose and the only winners would be property developers who proceeded to rape our landscape and our greenbelt. There's no shortage of brownfield sites for development here in the UK. He should have built his folly on that.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:59 AM on January 25, 2008


All that effort, years of hiding, and then he puts in my mother's kitchen cupboards from 1973.
posted by chococat at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have to admit I never really thought about the differences between British and American attitudes to zoning and urban planning before. And oddly enough, it's actually an interesting subject.
posted by bookish at 10:20 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a load of tripe: He followed the rules. There were four years for people complain, and no one did. Not a peep. I'd say he's earned the right to keep his castle.
posted by mullingitover at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who is amazed that this so-called "farmer":

1. Has enough money to build a huge mansion
2. Has enough land to build a huge mansion
3. Has enough money and time to make his huge mansion look interesting

This isn't about a little guy sticking it to the man - this is some extremely rich guy who had enough money to risk it on a crazy idea. If they tear it down, he has his normal house to go to.

I say, tear it down and send him a bill for the bulldozer costs.
posted by meowzilla at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2008


PeterMcDermott: I sympathize. Really, I do. I love public land and hate soulless and unsustainable development. But zoning law isn't the only stop-gap available to us and draconian application of broad regulatory brushstrokes is inevitably going to break down in some individual stories. The unemployed hairdresser running an in-home business getting evicted or an earnest street artist prosecuted by a law meant to deter gang violence. Give someone prerogative, so the law can bend without breaking.
posted by cowbellemoo at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2008


funnily enough, a bunch of hungry bunnies ate all the hay and only then he was found out!
posted by matteo at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2008


How beautiful/unique/cool/artisinal/special does some illegal thing have to be before the law would be working against the public good?

I guess I just don't see how a fake castle built to house one family deserves any more consideration than any other type of building. Personally, I'd rather see the greenbelt.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2008


I disagree with the bullshit libertarian view that one should be able to build a 22-storey office tower on one's half-acre in the suburbs just because you own the land. I don't care how much my neighbour likes local food, there's no goddamn way I'm going to let him raise pigs next door. And, yeah, the city should be able to force you to mow your lawn.

But, frankly, this is a cool house that hurts nobody. And nobody gave a shit that that chunk of land wasn't being farmed for four years, so the idea that the green belt is being usurped is kind of spurious. If the council doesn't like it, they can change the rules. Just not retroactively.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:54 AM on January 25, 2008


I'm just popping in to say how funny it is to see the phrase "London Farmer" in the original link. This isn't in London people. It's Surrey.
posted by Sk4n at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was just wondering when someone was going to mention that, Sk4n. I only clicked through because I wondered whiich part of London he does his farming in.
posted by Mocata at 11:13 AM on January 25, 2008


And nobody gave a shit that that chunk of land wasn't being farmed for four years

Huh? You cannot equate "I'd wish he'd do something with his hay" to "golly, another folly to crass tastelessness and profit on land that's now lost forever as open space."
posted by maxwelton at 11:16 AM on January 25, 2008


The south-east of england, *excluding* london has a population density of 419/km^2. 8 million people in an area of 7300 square miles. The only US state with a higher population density is new jersey, at 440/km^2.

London, in the middle of the south east has another 7.5 million people in 600 square miles, thats nearly 5000/km^2. It's pretty damn crowded.

Surrey is not a rural area. The only thing stopping the suburbs of london expanding to cover the entire south-east is the legislative imposed green belt land, an attempt to converse a little bit of greenery and countryside for our kids, so they don't end up living in a 100% concrete suburban hell. It's not much different than preventing development in national parks.

The price he paid for the land, as farming land without building permission would have been far lower than if it hadn't been green-belt. He knowingly tried to cheat the system by buying agricutural land and circumventing the law for personal profit. If he gets away with it - poof! end of the green belt.

There are all sorts of zoning laws in the US, property rights not withstanding. For those who think he should have the right to do what he wants with his own land, would you mind if I ignored zoning laws and just built a meat processing plant or sewage treatment plant next door to your house? Green belt is just another form of zoning law. Or should I be allowed to murder anybody who steps onto my property? Laws continue to apply to you even when you own a piece of paper saying you own the few square yards of earth you're standing on.

As already mentioned, it's extremely unlikely he's had the local council building inspector checking the property meets health-and-safety regulations, so it's quite possibly dangerous.

That all said... it's a bloody cool castle, even if it is a bit twee. Guess he should have left the haybales up...
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:21 AM on January 25, 2008


Also - the four year rule only applies if people can see the change, including the local council, and THEN don't object. Hiding it for four and then going 'tada!' is hardly giving people a chance to see and object to it.
It shows he knew the laws, but tried to circumvent it. They couldn't object to the hay bales, because they're a temporary structure on agricultural land.

It's no different than those people that claim incomes taxes are unconstitutional. Just because you're trying to be clever doesn't mean you get to get away with it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2008


While I agree with much of what you say ArkhanJG, your statement that Surrey is not a rural area (have you been to the area encompassed by Reigate & Banstead Borough Council?) makes me question your statistics.
posted by Sk4n at 11:33 AM on January 25, 2008


What a load of tripe: He followed the rules. There were four years for people complain, and no one did. Not a peep. I'd say he's earned the right to keep his castle.

By hiding it as agricultural activity on a farm? What other illegal activity becomes permissible through being dishonest about it?
posted by vbfg at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2008


That, and the fact that you thought the castle was cool.
posted by Sk4n at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2008


Huh? You cannot equate "I'd wish he'd do something with his hay" to "golly, another folly to crass tastelessness and profit on land that's now lost forever as open space."

I can and did. A stack of hay, mouldering on a chunk of land for four years, makes just as much agricultural use of the land as building a house on it. That is: none.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2008


My Nan lived in Surbiton, and we inherited the flat there when she died. I was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames, and grew up in Worcester Park. Much of there might not be in Surrey any more, but I'm pretty familiar with the surrounding area. Surrey likes to *think* it's pretty rural, but it really isn't. I live in North Dorset these days, which is about as rural as the south of england gets, and even that's not particularly rural any more.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:42 AM on January 25, 2008


But, frankly, this is a cool house that hurts nobody.

My earlier point was that if he built this house without building department approval (I have no idea what's required in the UK; I'm just going by US standards here), we don't really know that it won't hurt anybody. How's his electricity connected? His sewer or septic system? Is is water meter large enough to handle the demand on the system? Has grading in preparation for the erection of the building actually made the building unsustainable (structurally, not envrionmentally)? Is the house adequately protected for fires? Is the correct type of glass in hazardous locations? Are the beams in the floors and roof large enough to support their loads? Are the walls strong enough to withstand the wind (being stone, I don't think there's too much of a problem here, but still)? Is the masonry adequately reinforced? Do the footings provide adequate support for the structure? What happens if he sells it and someone else moves in and bad stuff happens? What happens if he has guests and the roof caves in on them?

I don't know any of these things, and the article doesn't say anything about him having obtained any approvals at all for the building. For all I know, he's just some fucking knob who piled a bunch of stone up and went to Home Depot for some cabinets, and disguised his shenanigans as a temporary structure. If he did get some kind of building inspection approval that didn't require him to get planning approval before building, that's kind of the government's fault for oversight. But that would run contrary to how every building department I've ever dealt with is run, and I'm going to have to believe he's just a fucking knob.
posted by LionIndex at 11:43 AM on January 25, 2008


Stats were from the 2000 (US) and 2001 (UK) census.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_East_England
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population_density

I also never claimed to have any taste ;)
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:46 AM on January 25, 2008


A stack of hay, mouldering on a chunk of land for four years, makes just as much agricultural use of the land as building a house on it.

A stack of hay is pretty much temporary. People can safely assume that eventually a stack of hay will disappear in some way, in a not incredibly long stretch of time. A house comparably permanent, and also draws on a bunch of other resources that a stack of hay does not. You'd almost have to be willfully obtuse to assert otherwise.
posted by LionIndex at 11:47 AM on January 25, 2008


Have any of you looked at the google maps link? Some of you seem to think he's built this in the middle of the Lake District. He's pretty much surrounded by urban sprawl, so the Green Belt/rural idyll argument is spoof.
posted by A189Nut at 12:23 PM on January 25, 2008


He's pretty much surrounded by urban sprawl, so the Green Belt/rural idyll argument is spoof.

Or more apt and important than ever.
posted by dersins at 12:30 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that this would be reasonable, if the house really is his big dream to live in and he isn't just some speculator thinking he'd get clever and have a nice house to sell at a fat profit:

(1) Inspect the house as it should have been inspected. This will involve tearing much of it down to bare structure, at his expense, and then rebuilding, also at his expense.

(2) Grant him a certificate of occupancy, or whatever the local equivalent is, good for his lifetime, and require that no further improvements/alterations be made to the land subject to deeply punitive fines.

(3) Upon his death, require that that the house be torn down and the land rehabilitated at the estate's expense. Perhaps require him to post a bond now that would, in expectation, pay for the removal of the house at the end of his projected lifespan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:37 PM on January 25, 2008


I'm amused by all of this because it reminds me of one of my favorite expressions from law school: "actual, open, notorious and hostile". The phrase arises in the context of adverse possession -- the rule that if you manage to hold on to something for long enough it's yours. Generally in the US (as, apparently, in the UK) adverse possession periods are now codified by statute, but the possession must be "actual, open, notorious and hostile" for the proscribed period. You can't hide behind a hay bale. IANAUKL, and I have no idea what the UK statute in question says, but I bet it says you can't circumvent the regulations by conscious fraud.
posted by The Bellman at 12:43 PM on January 25, 2008


Letting it stand sets a bad precedent but so does bending the rule of law. There's a lack of clarity in the letter of the law, bending it to line up with it's actual intent is wrong. Give this guy a pass, with a fine for starting the building without a permit and then fix the damn law.
posted by substrate at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2008


Or should I be allowed to murder anybody who steps onto my property?

In many states of the union, you would certainly be allowed to do just that. It's called the "Castle Doctrine" and the states where you can get away with killing someone for merely trespassing have a "Stand-your-ground clause". In most of these states you just have to profess a "resonable belief" that you or your proprty were in danger from the trespasser.

/end of derail
posted by JAHxman at 12:53 PM on January 25, 2008


OK I don't know that I buy they profit thing, whatever. I mean what are all the long term facts in this case? Did the guy come in, buy a bit of farm land claiming to use it to farm and instead built a house on it? Or is it a farmer who owns the land, farms most of the land lived on part of the land and decided to build a new house on a different part of the land while still farming the rest? Seriously I've seen that done on farms here in Illinois.
So is he greedy capitalist making a grab for land to build his house on the cheap? Or is he a farmer thats been living there and want to build his new house in a style he wanted even if some stuck up prats at the planning board wouldn't have approved of it because they don't approve of his taste.

BTW I've seen castles, that is not a castle. That is some shitty defensive structure.
posted by MrBobaFett at 12:58 PM on January 25, 2008


We also don't need shite fake castles, because we have real ones, attractive remodelled by Oliver Cromwell in a distressed aesthetic.
posted by Abiezer at 1:14 PM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


For all I know, he's just some fucking knob

With this phrase I declare the argument closed. (Or I would do if it hadn't petered out an hour or so ago anyhow without any input from me.) It's hilarious that anyone believes there is some fault with the law. For one thing, it's green belt land, and for another thing, you obviously don't get to take advantage of the four-year non-objection rule if you hide the damn thing in a bunch of hay. As it happens, it's preposterously tasteless, but the planning authorities have at least two excellent reasons for requiring its demolition without getting into the question of taste.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:13 PM on January 25, 2008


meowzilla : Am I the only one who is amazed that this so-called "farmer":

1. Has enough money to build a huge mansion
2. Has enough land to build a huge mansion
3. Has enough money and time to make his huge mansion look interesting


Maybe there is another debate here...about ag subsidies. It would be really quit ironic if this guy is getting them and using the money to build his castle, when in Britain they are doled out primarily to preserve farmland and the rural way of life.

But to me, as long as he is farming most of his land and keeping it rural...I don't see a huge problem. This isn't some ginormous American subdivision. Farmers like to have nice houses too. I understand the logic, but I don't think building should be completely restricted. If it weren't, maybe he would have negotiated with the housing commission and settled for a less ostentatious design.
posted by melissam at 2:13 PM on January 25, 2008


As dersins says - no, this isn't the middle of nowhere, and that's why it's important to keep what green space there is. I'm probably lucky that this site isn't filled to the brim with english people, or the argument that the green belt only exists for the people living in it would come up. (oops). Now, I live in it (I'm actually even deeper in it at the moment than my location indicates), so I can't give an objective opinion on that. Of course I want to keep the area round me green, but the way its always been justified to me is that without the green belt it would take londoners 3/4 hours to reach anything resembling countryside. No, Richmond park is not the country.

On preview, melissam - it's in no way impossible to build on the green belt, you're just meant to build on the brown bits not the green bits. Choosing to build on land that is only cheap because you're not allowed to build on it is a little dishonest.
posted by muteh at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2008


posted by game warden to the events rhino It's hilarious that anyone believes there is some fault with the law. For one thing, it's green belt land, and for another thing, you obviously don't get to take advantage of the four-year non-objection rule if you hide the damn thing in a bunch of hay.

There's no fault with the law; the law is poorly written. If no one objected to the haystack for four years, they've got no reason to object to the house. Moreover, the law doesn't say people must have an unobstructed view of the building; it simply says they've got four years to raise their objections. And no one did. Case closed.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:41 PM on January 25, 2008


Hmm.

Something tells me this won't be appearing in the next series of Grand Designs.
posted by kaemaril at 4:31 PM on January 25, 2008


I love British hypocrisy...

You rail against anyone doing anything at all to your precious green areas, then you go and build places like Milton Keynes or Luton.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:54 PM on January 25, 2008


Devils Rancher writes "No one seems to have had the slightest problem with the giant ugly pile of hay covered by blue tarps. If the house is so much worse, then put some more hay up. Problem solved."

Because the problem is aesthetics but rather land use.

Phanx writes "I think the key thing is that it's on green belt. If you live in the USA or Canada, or Australia, where there is any amount of empty land, I don't think you are likely to appreciate the significance of that"

In BC we have a regulation called the Agricultural Land Reserve and it's brilliant. It was put in place to protect farmland from development. It could be stronger but it is wildly better than not having anything.

hjo3 writes "I'm surprised at how many people here are against Mr. Fidler. Why support a bureacratic mess that dictates what people can do with their own property? It's not like he hurt anyone. In fact, his new home will probably raise surrounding property values if allowed to stand."

Which is great if raising land values is the end-all be-all of society. It's not and Mr. Fidler knew that when he bought the property.

LionIndex writes "A stack of hay is pretty much temporary. People can safely assume that eventually a stack of hay will disappear in some way, in a not incredibly long stretch of time. A house comparably permanent, and also draws on a bunch of other resources that a stack of hay does not."

Exactly. Even if no one did anything a tarp covered hay stack is going to be reduced to a few tarp grommets in only a few decades. The concrete in this house is going to be around for centuries.
posted by Mitheral at 6:11 PM on January 25, 2008


Why support a bureacratic mess that dictates what people can do with their own property? It's not like he hurt anyone.

That will only be true when technology advances to the point that we can teleport in and out and our sewers and drinking systems are a closed loop. until then? Not so much.

I can only assume that all the people who proudly proclaim that you can build whatever you want to in the US have not, in fact, built anything they wanted here. While it is true that there are large swatches of the backcountry where you can get away with constructing an unpermitted structure it can be torn down same as this. Plus no-one will be able to get a mortgage to buy it from you, emergency personal will likely be unable to find it in a wildfire or flood, which is a double bummer as it won't be insured ro eligible for FEMA $$. Oh and you better pay cash for the structure and all upgrades and hope your contractors do a good job because you can forget about construction insurance or that home equity loan.
posted by fshgrl at 6:41 PM on January 25, 2008


Knock it down. The kitchen alone is a horror. (Data point: American here)

I was researching a trip we were going to take to England (it ended up not happening), and in my google-map-gazing, one of the things that amazes me about England is how much green space there still is, given how densely populated the island is. Beats the hell out of the sprawl that is much of the East coast from DC to Boston, and more locally (for me) the stretch of 80 from SF to Sacramento. Except for the bit from about Vallejo to Cordelia, much of which is working ranchland.
posted by rtha at 7:32 PM on January 25, 2008


fandango_matt: "...the law is poorly written. If no one objected to the haystack for four years, they've got no reason to object to the house."

Uh... what? If you don't object to a temporary agricultural heap of stuff on agricultural land, you don't get to object to someone building a (horrific, landscape-despoiling) home on green belt land that's protected from homebuilding? This appears to have been Fidler's insane logic, but thank God it's not the law's, which is precisely why the planning board considering it now is fully entitled to (and probably will) set the four-year rule aside.

Civil_Disobedient: "You rail against anyone doing anything at all to your precious green areas, then you go and build places like Milton Keynes or Luton."

It is precisely because of places like Milton Keynes and Luton that I, for one, rail against people doing anything to green belt protected land.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:07 AM on January 26, 2008


Neatly sidestepping all property rights arguments, all American-attitude-versus-British-attitude arguments and all is-you-is-or-is-you-ain't-a-liberal arguments, I'd just like to say I think the perfect solution here is for this gentleman to put the bales of hay back up around the house and then say "Poof! It's gone!"
posted by Spatch at 5:37 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was amused by his name as a 'Fidler' (well 'fiddler') is British slang for a cheat... as in 'fiddling the books' is cheating the tax man. So, as we also say, he was bang to rights from the start... tear is monstrosity down!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2008


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