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Campaign To Save Conan Doyle Home Heads For High Court

Judicial Review Seeks To Stop Re-Development Of Historic Home Of Sherlock Holmes’ Creator


The man leading a campaign to save Undershaw, the former home of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from being partially demolished and turned into eight separate houses by a developer says next week’s Judicial Review is ‘an opportunity to preserve a national literary treasure’.

Public law experts at Irwin Mitchell launched a Judicial Review, which will be heard in the High Court next week (23 May 2012), on behalf of Conan Doyle scholar John Gibson who established the Undershaw Preservation Trust.

Mr Gibson is campaigning to overturn a decision by Waverley Borough Council to grant planning permission to turn the listed building into eight separate homes, and says there is a need to preserve the history and character of the home for future generations.

Planning permission was granted to developers despite the existence of an earlier grant of planning permission to a potential purchaser who had already made an offer to buy Undershaw and retain it as a single dwelling – an important consideration which was ignored by the Council when planning permission was granted to the developers.

There were over 1,300 objections to the proposals including many high profile public figures including author Stephen Fry, BBC’s Sherlock co-creator and actor Mark Gatiss, former head of the Arts Council Sir Christopher Frayling and Jeremy Hunt, the local MP and  Culture Secretary.

Conan Doyle designed and lived in Undershaw with his ill wife from 1897, resurrecting Sherlock Holmes and writing 14 further stories, including his most famous work The Hound of the Baskervilles.  The house is a Grade II listed building, largely because of its literary and historic importance.

Undershaw was the first house Conan Doyle owned and the only one which was built to his own design.  His family crests are placed in the two large heraldic windows. As well as writing there, Conan Doyle also entertained many of his literary and artistic friends at Undershaw including JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula.

Mr Gibson, who founded the Undershaw Preservation Trust in 2009 to co-ordinate opposition to the proposed development, said: “We are working tirelessly toward saving Undershaw from this development and to restore it as Conan Doyle intended for future generations. This is an opportunity to preserve a national literary treasure.

“Someday we'd love to see the building restored to its former glory, which would open it up for many possibilities. A single dwelling, a museum, a literary centre; there are many dreams for what it could become.

“But first we must prevent the developers from being able to change Undershaw from what it was always meant to be. Local authorities need to consider the history of such buildings, particularly where listed buildings are concerned so that they can properly assess what the correct use should be.”

Andrew Lockley, Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell and representing Mr Gibson and the campaign to save Undershaw, said: “The council has not only ignored public opinion, it has appears to have made very basic errors while making its decision on Undershaw. It has agreed to a plan which involves the partial demolition, alteration, conversion and extension of the building instead of a considered restoration.

“Mr Gibson has campaigned tirelessly to save Undershaw as one house and ensure that a more acceptable solution  is found, which preserves the building as a single residence, a museum or small hotel. The house is hugely significant from an architectural and historical point of view and we say that the local authority made several mistakes in granting planning permission.

“There are several key events in the planning process that we argue were unlawful and we are asking the Court to reverse the original planning and listed building consent preventing this over-development from destroying over a century of history.”

Irwin Mitchell says the decision to grant planning and listed building consent to the developer Fossway was unlawful, claiming that:

  • Despite being a Grade II listed building, English Heritage were not made aware of the plans - when planning law stipulates it  must be told so that it has an opportunity to comment.
  • The planning committee also ignored a second application, while they were considering the Fossway development. which would have retained the building as a single dwelling The local authority was misinformed about the interest in purchasing Undershaw for use as a single dwelling, making its decisions on the mistaken premise that there had been no response to a marketing campaign when in fact an offer to do just that had been made but has been turned down by Fossway.

Conan Doyle’s stories have enjoyed yet another revival in recent years thanks to the BBC show Sherlock. Mark Gatiss, who co-wrote the series and starred as a major character, said: “I would like to express my whole-hearted enthusiasm for the campaign to save Undershaw. It seems to me a very sad reflection on our times that the home of one of our greatest and most popular writers should be so neglected and in danger of unsympathetic redevelopment.

“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle occupied several residences in his prolific and thrilling career but only Undershaw bears the stamp of his massive personality. It’s no exaggeration to say that Undershaw was the centre of Doyle’s life during perhaps the most fruitful and fascinating phase of his career. It must be saved and take its place among the sensitively preserved residences of this country’s other literary giants.”

Stephen Fry, a Patron of the Conan Doyle library and a former youngest member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, said: “It is more certain than anything else in all literature that Sherlock Holmes will last, not just centuries, but for millennia.

“There is so much a living, thriving Undershaw could achieve. It could be a study centre, a visitor attraction, aligning museum and a focus of pride. I urge all those have the power to think of themselves not as wrecking balls, but as people of vision and creative insight.

“There is real value in Undershaw. If it is thought about, it can attract new generations of tourists to the area, it can be an enormous source of local pride. Please, please, have another think.”

For more information regarding Undershaw please visit the Undershaw Preservation Trust’s website: http://www.saveundershaw.com/