Knock down your ‘man cave’ – judge

By Mark Elson   |   Senior Reporter   |
Wednesday 31st October 2018 10:40 am
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A BUSINESSMAN has been ordered to demolish his unauthorised leisure complex after a judge dismissed claims that the £750,000 clearance cost would ruin him.

Judge Milwyn Jarman QC gave Graham Wildin 18 months to remove the two-storey structure from his back garden in Meendhurst Road, Cinderford, after granting a High Court injunction in favour of the Forest of Dean Council.

Mr Wildin, who runs his own accountancy firm based in Lydney, claimed the projected price tag to demolish the 10,000sq ft building - including a cinema, squash court, sports hall, bowling alley and bar - would cost him his business, with the loss of 40 jobs, and his home.

But Judge Jarman – who heard he owns or part owns four houses in Cinderford, an apartment in Tenerife and a classic car collection – dismissed his claim that his net assets amounted to less than £193,000.

“I do not accept that any of the valuations which Mr Wildin has put upon any of his assets show their true worth… (or) that the granting of the injunction is likely to lead to the closure of the business or the loss of jobs,” he said.

“In my judgment it is likely that the true worth of Mr Wildin’s net assets is substantially more than the figure which he relies upon and is likely to be sufficient to fund the works set out in the enforcement notice, notwithstanding the substantial cost of so doing.”

The judgement delivered on Friday (October 26) follows a five-year planning battle over the sports and leisure complex, which Mr Wildin built without planning permission.

In March 2014, the Forest Council issued an enforcement notice telling him to demolish it, which he appealed without success in 2015 to the Planning Inspector and the High Court.

He has claimed that it is not in breach of two-storey restrictions, as the ground floor is partly built underground.

But the judge said the planning inspector had labelled the “very large, bulky” structure at 24 and 24A Meendhurst Road “totally out of scale and proportion with the surrounding development” and of “poor design”.

Judge Jarman said: “Mr Wildin has taken no steps since then to comply with the notice,” prompting the council to seek an injunction ordering the building’s destruction.

Mr Wildin told the High Court hearing in Cardiff on September 20 that he didn’t have the money to pay for the demolition, which is likley to cost “in the region of £750,000.”

“Cleary on any view that is a very substantial sum for most individuals to find,” said the judge. “He also says that the required demolition will render the surrounding land unstable and give rise to a risk to life, is likely to lead to the loss of his home and business with consequent loss of jobs, and will impact severely upon the health of his partner who is already seriously ill.”

But having visited the site before making his ruling, Judge Jarman added: “The building amounts to a clear breach of planning control and impacts adversely on neighbouring properties and the character of the landscape.

“He has not taken any steps to comply with the enforcement notice and it is clear to me that he will not do so unless and until ordered to do so by the court.”

He did not accept that Mr Wildin’s business had “nil value” after hearing that he had sold it in 2003 for £1.6m and bought it back for £1 when it went into liquidation in 2009.

It had a turnover of £1.368m, a profit of £166,472 and assets of £391,473 in 2017 and is described on its website as “the largest and most successful accountancy practice in Gloucester with a growth rate which is unsurpassed,” he noted.

Granting the injunction, Judge Jarman said: “I accept that there will be adverse impacts upon Mr Wildin and his partner and in particular upon finances, housing and health… (but) these are not such to outweigh the public interest in compliance with planning control to remove a building which has very serious impacts upon the character and appearance of the surrounding area and the effect on the living conditions of neighbouring occupiers.”

Welcoming the judgement, Forest Council planning committee chairman, Cllr Philip Burford, said: “This decision sends out a strong message that we will act decisively when people try to ride roughshod over our planning laws and show little regard to proper process.

“The planning committee had great sympathy for the neighbours who made valid complaints.”

“Mr Wildin knowingly erected his sports and leisure building even though he did not have the appropriate planning permission from the council, he then refused to cooperate with our enforcement team,” he said.

“We very much hope that this long-running issue can now be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Wildin said he did not wish to comment.

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