Don't build castles without planning permission: a cautionary tale

The "castle". Image:

We all make mistakes. We mess up our tax return. Or we back our car into a bollard. Or, you know, we build a mid-size mock Tudor castle on our farm without planning permission and try to hide it behind bales of hay whenever the council comes round.

This, at least, was the mistake made by the ironically named Robert Fidler, a farmer living on the Surrey greenbelt. He built a four-bedroom building that was a kind of mock Tudor/castle hybrid (yep) on his land without gaining planning permission first. While building it, he concealed the construction site using hay bales:

Image: Reigate and Banstead council.

Here's a view of the castle side of the completed house:

Image: Maddie Stocker.

Reigate and Borough council eventually caught on (despite Fidler's clever haybale trompe d'oeil). Frankly, they could have just taken a look on Google Earth: 

Image: Google.

Following a nine year battle, Fidler is now planning to tear down the four-bedroom house house and has been photographed removing roof tiles. Really, he didn't have much choice: in 2015, a High Court Judge ruled that if he didn't comply with the order by June 2016, he could go to jail for three months. There is a petition calling for the property to stay, but it seems unlikely that the council will relent.

The whole situation is made all the more fraught because the building is situated on the green belt, where planning is tightly restricted. This may have contributed to Fidler's decision not to seek permission in the first place, but it's also why the council is sticking to its guns. The council's member for planning and development, Mike Miller, told the Daily Mail in 2013:

We are pleased with the outcome of the appeal and the planning inspector’s decision. It supports our argument that the building is unlawful and that our earlier enforcement notices are valid. Had this appeal been allowed, it would have set an unacceptable precedent for development in the green belt.

There you have it folks. If you're going to build an illegal mock Tudor, avoid the green belt for now. 


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.