Council spends £14k fighting couple over a fence

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Queen Thorn Parish Council has spent £14,000 fighting a couple over a 6 foot fence it erected in their back garden. The case dragged on for three years, causing the retired couple significant stress and aggravation, before the council agreed to take the fence down.

But what was the council thinking of? Why did it waste so much money on such a pointless fight?


The fight

The Daily Mail reported that the problems in the village of Nether Compton, near Sherborne, started when Michael and Lesley Pearce replaced the hedge at the bottom of their garden with a fence and a gate in 2011. The gate led onto a public park, using a right of way that was written into the deeds of their house. They had used this right of way for the previous 19 years without any problems.

As a matter of courtesy Mr Pearce wrote to the council and informed them of the changes. The council said the couple had no 'right of easement' and the council built a 6 foot fence in front of their garden gate.

Mr Pearse told the Western Gazette at the time that: "On Friday morning, I saw two men by our gate erecting a fence. I feel sad that a parish council in a small village should seek to behave this way."

They complained to the district council, and the parish council. When the parish council refused to listen to the couple and remove the fence, they took legal action. The matter took three years and was finally settled - just before going to court - in the couple's favour. The council never admitted the couple had any rights of easement, but said they were giving it to them.

During the process Pearse told friends in a round robin Christmas message that the council had spent £14,121 on legal fees.

A spokesperson for the council told the Express that the gateway had been put up "in a provocative manner". He also told the Mail that: "'We never brought the case but having been placed in a difficult position the parish council is pleased to be able to draw a line under the matter without added expense." He also denied that the fence had ever been erected.

Pointless fights?

This isn't the first time that local councils have spent time and money enforcing rules and demanding that people make changes that don't seem to make a great deal of sense to the casual viewer.

Last month we reported on the gardeners from Hampstead in North London which had reclaimed a rat-infested tip beside a railway line and built a garden for the community in its place. The council demanded that they tear up their beautifully planted garden, because in theory it was meant to provide service access to local shops. This is despite the fact that there was no chance anyone could use it for access before the locals stepped in, because they couldn't get past the abandoned cars and accumulated filth.

A month earlier is was the turn of a landscape gardener from Bromsgrove, who was forced to knock down a wall in his own garden. He had built the wall when he gave the garden a makeover six years ago. He didn't realise that an old and unused highway ran over the land, which means he was not allowed to build anything on it. He fought the council for years before finally being forced to take the wall down.

And it's not just gardens that come under fire. In April last year a woman from Devon was forced to repaint her home. She had given her house a coat of paint, in a shade of pink that was fractionally darker than the original colour. The council received a complaint and wrote to her demanding that she go back to the original colour or face legal action.

It's hard to imagine why these things could possibly matter, but these cases go to show how seriously councils take minor and obscure legislation. They argue that rules have to be enforced otherwise everyone would take liberties and real harm would eventually be done.

But what do you think?

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