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Not exactly spoiling the area

A family in England who built a home in the woods without planning permission which remained undetected for four years have won the right to stay there. . As a result they were able to avoid zoning laws (planing regulations) which prevented them from living there had the local Board (council) found out about it. is running a story about Daniel and Jessica Brown, together with their three children, have been living in the house concealed behind the trees near the village of Westcott, Surrey, without the authorities knowing.

I is a case study in successful evasion of the restrictions on building homes in remote rural locations, which would-be off-gridders should study carefully, and apply in ways that suit themselves. But there is also a downside. The Mail story dwells on the fury of local residents who had been befriended by the Brown family.

They felt betrayed and misled by the family who pretended they lived elsewhere for four years.  In the UK local residents who are often hoodwinked by incoming off-grid communities.  The incomers have little choice. If they were open and honest about their intentions they would quickly be thrown off the land.


But Mail readers commenting on the story were largely in favor of the Brown family. “The construction of their home wasn’t even noticed by the people who are outraged by its existence!” said one.  “How regularly do these people visit this area of outstanding beauty if they didn’t notice a house there for over 4 years? Their lives must be very empty if they need to complain about such things to keep occupied :-)”

The case highlights how laws which are framed to prevent travellers setting up disruptive communities on green sites also prevents low-profile, low-impact individuals and communities from fulfilling their dream of living close to nature, harming no-one.

The District council could have taken action if it found the family had concealed their home. Regulations state that The Browns, who moved into the woods off Logmore Lane in September 2007, cannot now be forced to move out given the length of their stay.

Mr Brown, a horseman, has owned and looked after animals on the land at Three Cornered Copse for 18 years.

Building, electrics, plumbing and other work on the house started about six years ago and was carried out with the help of relatives and friends, and completed in August 2007.

They did not seek planning permission for a site which lies within the green belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, protected by strict development restrictions.

Councillors and some neighbours are furious but other neighbours have backed the Browns and say they are ‘country folk’ who deserve to stay in the area.

Mole Valley District Council has accepted it is powerless to take action and, following legal advice, it has granted the Browns a certificate of lawfulness to continue living there.

The council could have taken action if it found sufficient evidence that the Browns had concealed the home. But the Browns have lived in the home with their three children and even had bills sent to their new address

They failed to register for council tax, were not on the electoral roll and even those living in the nearest homes to the site did not know they were there, one of whom said Mr Brown had ‘soured’ their friendship.

The Browns submitted evidence of their own to prove they had been there since 2007, including confirmation of leaving their previous home in Abinger, plus insurance and bank documents, medical and school correspondence and phone and utility bills which had been sent to the new address.

A TV licence is registered to Three Cornered Copse, equestrian events have been held there and friends confirmed they had visited for dinner and birthday parties and sleepovers.

But 10 neighbours wrote letters of complaint to the council, apparently enraged that the Browns have managed to fox everyone.

Richard and Carolyn Smith wrote ‘We would like to erect a house in one of our top fields. Can I now assume we will be able to do that and sell our present property without gaining permission from the council? Obviously it is a planning ‘free for all’ in Logmore Lane.’

Work on the house was carried out by a host of helping hands including friends and family

Jennifer Cordeux wrote ‘Every neighbour I have spoken to was under the impression Mr Brown and his family lived in Abinger. I was completely unaware he had taken up residence on his land.

‘I ride, walk and drive past his land several times a week and it was never apparent he had erected a dwelling in the copse. There has never been any evidence of the family actually living there. You cannot just buy a field and build a house on it.”

Another neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said he was ‘personally disappointed’” with Mr Brown.

‘It’s put us in a very difficult situation. We’ve known Dan for a number of years. We’ve always got along well with him. Perhaps we didn’t really know him.

‘We feel somewhat let down. We were not expecting to be made mugs of, that’s what it feels like.’

But as one Mail reader wrote:  “It complies with the law, which is actually for once a very logical one- if you haven’t caused any harm or disruption to anyone else for a long period of time, then there is no cases against you!” he said.  “Plus, the house looks a damn site less of an eyesore than most would in an area- the fact you can barely see it shows that it has been sensitively built for the area! People are just peed off that they view them as ‘getting away’ with something. It doesn’t seem like its been done for financial gain, so it isn’t really comparable to the examples given by their opposers. Good on them”


Other people in the area, and one person from Luxembourg, wrote confirming the Browns had been there since 2007. Their contribution to the community and charities was praised and even an objector called them a “nice family”.

Supporters Diana and Barry Hitchcock wrote ‘They are country people, living a simple and hard-working country life. We need to keep people like Daniel and Jessica in our midst.’

Another supporter described Mr Brown as ‘an appropriate link for Mole Valley with its rural character, agricultural heritage and tradition of horse husbandry’.

Mr Brown and his wife, a teaching assistant, released a statement saying ‘We understand the objectors’ point of view, but are cheered by the fact there were more that supported us.

‘We are grateful to the council for enabling us to go on living and working in the community we love and caring for the piece of land that means so much to us.’



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