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THE BATTLE OF GREENSIDE

NEWS

This is a story that was never going to have a happy ending.

Once a building is demolished, it is gone. There is nothing that can be done to bring it back.

A pastiche rebuild is never enough, and nor should it be.

Despite this, the Twentieth Century Society (C20) is this week being rightly celebrated.

When faced with the appalling news that Connell, Ward and Lucas' fine Grade II-listed 1937 Greenside house had been illegally demolished by its owner, C20 stepped up. Now - more than 18 months after the act of destruction took place - the society has emerged victorious from a planning battle of historic proportions.

Some years ago C20 became concerned by fears that David Beadle, the owner of Greenside, had no appreciation of Modernism. It then emerged that he was proposing to demolish the Surrey house and replace it with a new building he could sell on for a profit.

C20, and its small but hardcore army of militant supporters, swung into action and after a long battle got all Beadle's plans rejected at judicial review. That seemed to be that.

But the story was not over.

Unfortunately, the committed conservationists had come up against someone equally determined. To everyone's surprise, Beadle lodged a fresh planning application to demolish Greenside with Runnymede council in 2002.

It all appeared to be starting again - but this time Beadle played an unexpected card.

He put forward legal advice to planners that told them that denying him the right to demolish would contravene his human rights. Under the Human Rights Act, according to this advice, Beadle was guaranteed the right to maximise the value of his property. And when planners said they were minded to approve Beadle's application, alarm bells really began to ring throughout the world of conservation.

A decision to grant planning for demolition would have set a precedent.

The natural extension of the Greenside case would have been that any owner of a listed property would have the right to demolish if they could prove that a replacement house would have a greater value. As a result, when Runnymede did approve, the ODPM slapped a holding order on it. There was no way this was going to go through without an inquiry. Far too much was at stake.

At this point Beadle took the law into his own hands.

He decided to ignore the legally binding holding order and sent in the demolition boys. Within 24 hours all that was left of Greenside was a pile of rubble.

The case seemed over.

But not for C20. Its staff realised that a lot was still at stake and ploughed on with their campaign. It was almost as if they were still defending the building itself. They were defending hundreds of buildings in a similar predicament.

Beadle had to be stopped.

And he was. While Beadle faced criminal proceedings for ignoring the holding order and demolishing the building, an inquiry took place into Runnymede's decision to support the demolition.

And, faced with cogent, committed and convincing arguments, the inspector was won round. There was no way that Runnymede's planning decision should be allowed to stand, he said.

All that was left was for the deputy prime minister John Prescott to agree with his inspector. Last week he firmly came down on the side of C20. Not only that but he stated unequivocally that the property clauses of the Human Rights Act should never again apply to planning law.

Everybody involved with fighting the case for C20 breathed a sigh of relief.

The war had finally been won.

But it is not just Modernists who should be relieved - anyone with even a passing interest in architectural history owes this determined bunch a tremendous debt of gratitude.

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