Monday, June 3, 2013

News: Wentworth Woodhouse - case dismissed


Plans to restore Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham to its former glory have taken a step forward following the unanimous decision by the Court of Appeal to dismiss the Coal Authority's case that the claim for compensation for extensive subsidence damage by the owners, the Newbold brothers, should be rejected.

The claim for damages against the Coal Authority, for at least £100m, is in respect of the damage caused by deep and open cast mining and is being disputed.

The Coal Authority attempted to stop the claim in the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal in 2012, arguing that the two damage notices served by the owners were invalid. The contention centred on technicalities on how the form was completed, largely due to it being completed by one of the Newbold brothers, Paul. The authority claimed that he was not the land owner as the property was co-owned by the family and that he did not have the authority to act on behalf of his family.

The judge, Mr George Bartlett QC ruled in favour of the Newbold family but the Coal Authority appealed the decision. The case was heard last month by Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice McFarlane and Sir Stanley Burnton at the Court of Appeal.

Sir Stanley Burton said: "On balance I come to the same conclusion as the President (of the Upper Tribunal, George Bartlett QC) that it was the brothers, the freehold owners, giving notice, with Paul being named really as a matter of convenience (and possibly because there was only room for one person to be named on the printed form).

"The damage notices in this case provided adequate information to the Authority. It identified the property in question and the damage it had suffered; it identified the Newbold brothers as the owner of the freehold, and therefore competent to give a notice under section 3 [of the Act]. I am confirmed in my view that the information provided by the notices was adequate, since the Authority was able to and did respond to them and was able to and did investigate the claims."

Both Lord Justice Macfarlane and Lord Justice Longmore also agreed with the President of the Upper Tribunal. Lord Justice Longmore said: "No one in the light of what was said in the damage notice could be in any doubt that it was the owners of site who were giving the notice. The fact that one brother was named in the box entitled "Claimant's Name" does not, to my mind, make any difference to that. To hold that, for some reason, what looks on the face of it to be a good notice is, in fact, a nullity [as if it did not exist or never happened], would be a triumph of form over substance."

Giles Newbold, joint owner of Wentworth Woodhouse, said: "This is a common-sense decision by the Court of Appeal which we very much welcome. However, this is just the start of the process and we urge the Coal Authority to deal with our legitimate claim as quickly as possible so that we can continue our work to restore Wentworth Woodhouse, one of the country's most important houses.

"Legal action has already cost all parties over £1m and it makes no sense for the Coal Authority to continue its legal action over technicalities when the future of this historic building is under threat."

Plans were unveiled in 2011 for the Grade I listed mansion house to create a combination of publicly accessible restored museum to the central and grandest rooms, as well as a 70 suite luxury hotel and spa to the remainder. The proposal hopes to revive the use of the house in such a way that minimises alteration and change to the historic building, making best use of the spaces that can be open to the public.

Plans are underway to establish a trust to save and restore the property with the hope of securing backing from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wentworth Woodhouse website

Images: Wentworth Woodhouse / twitter


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