Society wins 'historic' Heathside legal battle

THE Court of Appeal last week turned down proposals for a huge development on the edge of Hampstead Heath – upholding one of the greatest victories in the Heath and Hampstead Society s 110-year history. In January 2006 Camden Council granted

Marc Mullen

THE Court of Appeal last week turned down proposals for a huge development on the edge of Hampstead Heath - upholding one of the greatest victories in the Heath and Hampstead Society's 110-year history.

In January 2006 Camden Council granted twin brothers Alex and Thalis Vlachos permission to demolish the Garden House in the Vale of Health and replace it with a modern property four times the size, with an underground swimming pool.

Last year Mr Justice Sullivan quashed the council's decision to the delight of the society, which brought the judicial review of the case after 300 members pledged £50,000 to cover potential legal costs should the society lose.

Last month the society returned to the High Court after the Vlachos brothers appealed the decision, but again emerged victorious.

Martin Humphery, vice president of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: "I am delighted with this latest result. We have been fighting this for more than two years. It came out as the legal experts predicted, but you never know with the courts.

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"The result is of great significance across the country as it concerns Metropolitan Open Land and, as such, affects development on green belt."

Ian Harrison, chairman of the Vale of Health Society, also said: "I am absolutely delighted with the decision, which upholds a very important precedent."

The fringes of the Heath are designated Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), on which redevelopments are not allowed to be "materially larger" than existing buildings.

In dismissing the appeal Lord Justice Carnwath wrote: "I conclude that the council misunderstood and misapplied MOL policy.

"Had they properly understood the policy, in my view, they could not reasonably have concluded that a building more than twice as large as the original (in terms of floor space, volume and footprint) was not materially larger."

A Camden Council spokeswoman said the local authority welcomed the High Court decision, even though the legal costs have so far been in the region of £150,000 for the council and the Vlachos brothers.

"This will prove useful for us and other local authorities in future planning decisions of this nature," she said.

While the council picked up the tab for the society's costs at last year's hearing, the Vlachos brothers will foot the bill for the latest appeal.

The council sent a QC to the two-day hearing last month, which was before three law lords.

The only option available now to the Vlachos brothers is an appeal to the House of Lords, which they are not expected to make.

Tony Hillier, Heath and Hampstead Society chairman, said: "Of course we are delighted that this important principal has been upheld, but the first two lines to the judgement is the key. It is ridiculous, because that was the case that was made by the Heath and Hampstead Society at the original hearing two years ago.

"Indeed it is exactly the same as was said by Justice Sullivan at the High Court last year.

"It is scandalous that public money has been wasted to achieve this result. It is a lot of money to go nowhere."


o February 2004: Twins Alex and Thalis Vlachos submit plans to demolish the Garden House and replace it with a new house nearly four times the size. They spend three months revising the designs after council officers raise concerns about the loss of Metropolitan Open Land (MOL).

o August 2004: The application is withdrawn. The Vlachos bothers' architect, James Gorst, later writes that after several meetings with councillors "we were led to believe that this application would be favourably received and that a recommendation for approval would follow".

o May 2005: Revised plans submitted to the council are met with protests from residents, including Ali G and Borat comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

o January 23 2006: Camden Council approves the plans for the Garden House. Labour councillors vote in favour, while the Lib Dems and Tories, including future planning boss Cllr Mike Greene, oppose them.

The Heath and Hampstead Society immediately joins forces with the Vale of Health Society to lodge an appeal, and sets about collecting pledges totalling £50,000 from members to cover legal costs.

o April 3, 2007: Mr Justice Sullivan quashes the decision.

o November 2007: The brothers are granted leave to appeal by a law lord.

o March 19: Lord Justices Carnwath, Sedley and Warner kick out the appeal.