De Beauvoir man ‘knocked down his house without consent’ – but insists he had to

PUBLISHED: 17:09 21 December 2016 | UPDATED: 17:09 21 December 2016

A public notice has been pinned to a lamppost outside. Picture: Polly Hancock.

A public notice has been pinned to a lamppost outside. Picture: Polly Hancock.


A row is raging between De Beauvoir neighbours after a man ‘demolished’ half his house without planning permission. The town hall could take enforcement action, but the owner insists his actions were lawful.

Tottenham Road. Picture: Polly Hancock.Tottenham Road. Picture: Polly Hancock.

A developer who wanted to build what a neighbour called “the Trump Towers of De Beauvoir” demolished half his house without permission – but will still get his dream home.

Leigh Barss could yet face enforcement action from Hackney Council who say he flattened all but the front of his Edwardian terraced home in Tottenham Road, which falls inside the conservation area.

But at a planning meeting earlier this month, town hall officers retrospectively allowed the demolition. What’s more, the same application included plans to rebuild the house under different terms from those previously agreed.

Disappointed neighbour Katherina Harlow, who spoke against the application at the meeting, said the decision created a blueprint for anyone who wanted to go against planning guidelines.

Tottenham Road. Picture: Polly Hancock.Tottenham Road. Picture: Polly Hancock.

“It made me so angry,” she said. “It just seems like you can do what the heck you like these days.

“This sets a precedent and if permission is granted, on the grounds of equality everyone should be allowed to proceed in the same manner.”

Katherina, who bought her own home off Mr Barss in 2010, continued: “He said he wanted to build his ‘dream house’ and had wonderful plans. We saw what he was proposing and it was like Trump Towers. It was just ridiculous.”

In response, Mr Barss’ architect Alexander Martin called Katherina’s daughter, who now lives in her house, the “neighbour from hell” and said she had “from the outset, sought every means possible to disrupt Mr Barss plans”.

A glimpse inside the building site on the property. Picture: Byzantia HarlowA glimpse inside the building site on the property. Picture: Byzantia Harlow

Bizarrely, he also denied any demolition had taken place, saying the planning application for retrospective demolition was “not an admission of guilt” but in fact a concession on the developers’ part. A letter submitted to planning bosses reads: “We and our client emphatically deny there has been any demolition or, indeed, breach of relevant planning control or regulations.”

Mr Martin told the Gazette the work that had been approved required “significant demolition works” and a rear wall that was not meant to come down did so only because it couldn’t be safely kept.

He added: “Flank walls and chimney stacks and the facade [front] remain intact. Indeed, at all times the facade has been protected to preserve the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

Mr Barss, 60, has made several attempts to develop his family home since last year. He told the Gazette: “All I want to do is have my home back and to live out the rest of my life there in peace and quiet.”

His first effort was given the green light but he then asked to demolish and rebuild the property before withdrawing the bid.

Another application was up for discussion at the town hall in July but pulled from the agenda shortly before the meeting when officers discovered the demolition works.

“There was scaffolding up all over the place so we couldn’t see what was going on,” Katherina explained. “The application was coming up for review but before the meeting there was an opening at the rear of the property and you could see there was none of it left apart from the front.”

Nick Perry of the Hackney Society suggested the whole planning system was weighted towards developers and councils often had their hands tied due to finances.

“The consequences [of fighting proposals] can be expensive,” he said. “Developers know full well the chance of them going through with it are slim. There’s two things a council needs to consider – the cost of administration for the appeal and the risk the planning inspector will award costs to them.”

The council said the approved application would allow the house to be rebuilt and the proposed structure would have passed planning regulations anyway as it was similar to the one approved last year. A town hall spokesman said: “The ongoing enforcement action is against the act of demolition without consent, and could not be used as a reason to refuse the application to reinstate a building provided all planning policies were satisfied.”

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