Developer bulldozed listed building

has been ordered to pay £11,000 in fines and legal costs after the council took him to court.

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  Council to act on Grade II listed schoolhouse demolition

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Mr Rajiv Laxman, the sole director of Abrus Ltd was prosecuted by the council's planning department for the unlawful demolition of the former caretaker's cottage at Brandlehow School.

The building, which is no longer used by the primary school, is Grade II Listed, and was designed by the controversial architect Erno Goldfinger – best known for designing the iconic Trellick Tower in Paddington.

Brandlehow School was built in 1952 and is one of only two schools in the country to have been designed by Mr Goldfinger.

Mr Laxman applied for permission to demolish the building in 2002 but was refused. He took the case to appeal but a Government planning inspector backed the council's decision to say no.

But in January of this year the council received tip-offs from concerned local residents that the cottage was being demolished.

Planning officers rushed to the site and ordered all work to cease. Mr Laxman was immediately contacted and told to stop any further demolition work from being carried out. He was warned that unauthorised demolition was a criminal offence and that the council would require the building to be restored. This warning was also put in writing to him.

However, when the officers returned to the site two days later it was clear that more of the building had been knocked down, including its precious roof, using a mechanical digger.

Mr Laxman, whose company is based in Leicester Road, Croydon, was prosecuted under Section 9 of the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990 at South Western magistrates court last week. He was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 legal costs.

In a separate legal action the council has instructed Mr Laxman to rebuild the property to exactly match its former appearance, using the same Goldfinger design and materials. If he fails to comply with this listed building enforcement notice he could face unlimited fines in the crown court.

Prior to the court case, listed buildings watchdog English Heritage said: " The harm to the character, appearance and special architectural interest of the cottage and school is considered to be severe. "

English Heritage insisted that the demolition was not justified and strongly condemned "this severely damaging unauthorised work".

And architectural amenity group the Twentieth Century Society said: "The society recognises the detrimental message it would send out if this unlawful demolition of a listed building were to go unpunished.

"The unlawful demolition is a deeply regrettable loss. The Society are very pleased to note that Wandsworth are taking enforcement action in this case."

The council's planning applications chairman Cllr Leslie McDonnell said: "This was a flagrant breach of planning laws and a totally outrageous attempt to flout the regulations that protect the nation's most valuable and important architectural gems.

"Erno Goldfinger was one the most interesting of the post-war designers yet one of the least prolific. That is why the loss of this particular building is felt so acutely.

"The council has now ordered Mr Laxman to restore this listed building without any further delay. If he does not comply with our enforcement notice we will not hesitate to take further legal action against him – and if he's convicted – we will be pressing the courts to impose a very tough penalty on him.

60's class room designed by Erno Goldfinger at Bransdlehow School  

"If developers think they can get away with circumventing planning laws like this in Wandsworth – they had better think again."

Brandlehow School and the attached caretaker's cottage were given listed building status in 1993. Commissioned by the London County Council it was one of Goldfinger's first public buildings and was constructed using innovative building methods for the time, using a pre-cast reinforced concrete frame.

November 22, 2007