Farmer Tries To Dodge Planners ... By Hiding Bungalow In Barn
To an ordinary passer-by, the farmer's barn housed nothing more than towering piles of bales of straw. Yet behind the tightly-bound blocks of dried grass lay one man's extraordinary bid to build himself a home - without anyone finding out. Amidst a veil of astonishing secrecy, Graham Head spent six years covertly constructing a three-bedroom bungalow camouflaged by carefully placed straw bales. In a bid to avoid having to get planning permission, his hope was that he could keep the home hidden for so long that the council would have to approve it - even though he was building it on green belt land. It was a plot that, to his dismay, was to ruin his marriage and leave him facing the prospect of knocking the entire £300,000 construction down. Yesterday stud farmer Mr Head told of his disappointment after his local council ordered him to tear it down. He claims his bungalow improves the area and is "devastated" by the decision. "This is terrible news," he said."I don't know where I am going to live now. "I think it is disgusting how the council has treated me. They have tried to ruin my life. "My bungalow is not hurting anyone and I find it hard to understand that they would not like someone like me living on the site. "It is government policy at the moment to encourage equestrian breeding in the countryside. "They are trying to encourage it and yet the council have given me a hard time because they don't want me and the business up here." Mr Head bought the farmland in the picturesque North Downs in Surrey in 1998. However, it had no farmhouse and was situated in the protected green belt and was deisgnated an area of outstanding natural beauty. Fearing strict planning guidelines would prevent him from constructing a new home, Mr Head decided to go ahead and build one without permission. As the three-bedroom bungalow took shape, he went to extraordinary lengths to keep it a secret. The foundations of the home were built under an open barn and he used huge piles of straw bales to hide it from passers by. He and his wife used a secret entrance through the bales to get in and out. Mr Head had hoped to live in the finished bungalow on Ranmore Common near Dorking for four years without being detected.But neighbours and regular walkers began to suspect that a house was hidden behind the straw and got in touch with the local council. What followed was a protracted planning dispute between Mr Head and Mole Valley District Council. In June 2004 the farmer applied for a 'certificate of lawfulness' application, claiming he had lived in the completed bungalow for four years since buying the land in 1998, and should therefore be allowed to keep the house. But the council rejected his application and ordered the building to be demolished because its construction had never been given planning permission. The farmer appealed, but this was dismissed after a public inquiry in 2005. Last week he appealed again, but once more the council refused to grant him permission and ordered the home to be destroyed within six week. Councillor Neil Maltby, who helped local residents fight Mr Head's applications, described the council's decision as a victory for rural England. "Mr Head built the bungalow without planning permission in one of the most sensitive areas in the country," he said. "It is part of the greenbelt, an area of outstanding natural beauty and of great landscape value. "He knew that he would never be able to get planning permission so he deliberately deceived us. If the council did not take a strong stand against people like him then there would be no more greenbelt left." During the long-running dispute, Mr Head's wife grew tired of the continuous sneaking around and this led to their break-up. Planning bosses have threatened to apply to the High Court for an injunction to knock the building down themselves if Mr Head refuses to cooperate. A spokesman for Mull Valley District Council said: "The owner has made three attempts to retain the bungalow and all have failed. "The unauthorised bungalow must now be demolished. The council works very hard to protect its greenbelt and will not tolerate breaches of planning control."