Lord of the manor's £500k bill after ‘preposterous’ bid to block new homes backfires
A retired solicitor who tried in vain to use his lord of the manor title to block a multimillion-pound development on the edge of an ancient common faces a legal bill of more than £500,000.
David Baldwin inherited the 14th-century title in Chalfont St Peter from his father, who had bought it in the Sixties for £100, giving him ownership rights over the former grazing land that is now Gerrards Cross Common.
When Glynis Stanning, 67, sought to demolish her £2 million home on the edge of the 70-acre green space and replace it with four terraced homes, Mr Baldwin and his sister Katharine Barber tried to block the plans.
They claimed the homes would “encroach on the Common” and said an access track and connection to mains drainage could not be gained unless Mrs Stanning paid “a sufficient amount of money”.
The siblings initially accepted an offer of £100,000 for the development to go ahead unopposed, but changed their minds and asked for more. They have now been left with a legal bill of more than £500,000 after losing a High Court battle.
Judge Mark Anderson QC said Mr Baldwin, 74, and his sister had undermined their case by seeking more money. “[They] were in some difficulty in suggesting that infringements of public rights will inevitably occur … given that they were prepared to grant her all the rights she needed if she paid them a sufficient amount of money,” he said.
“Ownership of the common is a property right which offers the opportunity of payment from neighbouring landowners who need access over or under the common. Mr Baldwin did not hesitate to acknowledge in oral evidence that it is a source of income.”
The judge found that a mound of earth or “bund” along the front of Mrs Stanning’s property was inside her garden, rather than two metres into the Common as had been claimed.
He added that use of the drainage and access road could be passed on to new home owners without public nuisance. “Six houses currently use the track for vehicular access … that will increase to nine”, he said. “The proposed use will not self-evidently be excessive.”
After the ruling, Mrs Stanning’s solicitor Andrew Olins said: “Mr Baldwin lost on all issues … it has proved to be a rather expensive exercise for the lord of the manor.
"Mr Baldwin was offered £100,000 before the start of the litigation merely to confirm in writing the rights which the court has now declared my client always had.
"Now he will get nothing and, to boot, will have to bear my client’s costs as well as his own which will be in the order of £500,000 plus VAT.”
Mr Baldwin had claimed the construction would “decimate the Common”.
Mrs Stanning told the court the claim was “preposterous”.