'Hidden castle' petition builds support for it to be saved

Robert Fidler's house
Image caption The house was hidden behind hay bales for four years

More than a thousand people have backed calls to halt the proposed demolition of a mock-Tudor castle built without planning permission.

Farmer Robert Fidler, 66, hid the castle behind bales for four years when he built it in Redhill, Surrey.

A High Court judge has ordered him to demolish it by June. If he fails to do so he will be jailed for three months.

A petition, with 1,200 signatures, calls on Reigate and Banstead Council to stop the "wasteful" enforcement.

Image copyright Reigate and Banstead Council
Image caption Robert Fidler hid the house behind hay bales after moving his family in

Maddie Stocker, who began the petition and has a background in property, said she thought the decision to demolish the home was "absolutely ridiculous".

"It was like the council were robots and couldn't see the bigger picture," she said.

"Of course, I understand the council had been misled and that's not the right way to do things.

"But I think it's a piece of art, an amazing structure that he built by himself for only £50,000."

Image caption Robert Fidler said he could not demolish the house as bats, which are protected, were now living there
Image caption The house was constructed in secret and reportedly cost £50,000 to build

Other people have agreed, with former X Factor winner Steve Brookstein tweeting: "Reigate is a few miles from Gatwick which wants to expand but the council want to destroy a castle."

On Ms Stocker's petition Daniel Barratt wrote: "The council need to concentrate on getting homeless people off the streets not creating more."

And Mel Dawson wrote: "To demolish this property would be an act of vandalism for the sake of sour grapes mentality."

The house was built on greenbelt land between 1999 and 2006. The council first ordered its demolition in 2007.

During a hearing at the High Court, Mr Fidler claimed it could not be demolished because bats, which are protected by law, were roosting in the property.

However, a High Court judge said he would be jailed for his "defiance" if the property was not demolished by next June.

A council spokeswoman said: "If the petition is submitted to the council, has over 400 valid signatures and meets our petition criteria it would be eligible for discussion at a full council meeting.

"However the High Court's ruling that the house and other unauthorised structures must be removed by 6 June 2016 is binding."

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