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Millionaire neighbours battle over £2m legal bill after blocking project by celebrity architect

Sophie Hicks, left, with her model daughter Olympia Campbell outside London's High Court
Sophie Hicks, left, with her model daughter Olympia Campbell, outside London's High Court during the court case over her plans for an underground house in Holland Park - RICHARD GITTINS/CHAMPION NEWS

Millionaire neighbours who fought to stop an architect building a “glowing glass box” next door are now locked in a battle over who has to pay the £2 million legal bill.

Investment banker Andrew Dell, 60, and his company director wife, Jennifer, 59, clashed with fellow residents after being hit with a £430,000 charge at their apartment to help fund the fight against architect Sophie Hicks.

The occupants of 89 Holland Park in Kensington, London, fought Ms Hicks for more than eight years after she bought land next to their apartments in a converted Victorian villa.

Ms Hicks then unveiled plans for a cutting-edge, underground house with an illuminated glass entrance at street level.

They objected to it on grounds of taste, as they argued: “We do not all want to live next door to the creative and interesting.” They also relied on covenants restricting use of the land, which was once the garden of their Grade-II Listed house.

The neighbours, headed up by psychologist Maria Letemendia, 74, eventually won in 2021, but were left facing more than £2 million in professional and legal costs.

Plans for the futuristic underground house submitted by architect Sophie Hicks
Plans for the futuristic underground house submitted by architect Sophie Hicks show the glass entrance lobby as the only part of the building above ground - CHAMPION NEWS

The company that owns the freehold of their building, and whose directors are the flat owners, is now trying to get all of them to share the cost by putting £430,411.50 on to the service charge for each apartment.

The sum is thought to be Britain’s biggest ever service charge on a flat.

However, penthouse owners Mr and Mrs Dell are objecting, pointing out they had stopped supporting the fight with Ms Hicks in 2014.

The couple are now battling to avoid the bill at the Court of Appeal.

A previous tribunal ruled in their favour last year, but the company, 89 Holland Park (Management) Ltd, is appealing in a bid to gain a ruling that Mr and Mrs Dell have been legitimately charged for the dispute.

Ms Hicks, who is the mother of the models Edie and Olympia Campbell, obtained council planning approval for her subterranean house in 2015, having bought the plot in 2011.

However, the clash with her neighbours 2012 and proceeded through a series of planning disputes and court cases over their right to object to and block her building plans.

The company holds the power to veto building on the adjoining land because of covenants included in the contract when the plot was sold.

The neighbours ultimately secured victory in 2021 when a judge found they could reasonably object to the “glowing glass box” design entrance hall, as well as the extension of the house beyond the back of their own properties.

However, despite losing the case, Ms Hicks – who could still build to a different design – was ordered to pay only a portion of the professional and legal fees the dispute had cost her neighbours.

The court heard the money spent on the dispute had been extraordinary, with the costs called separately vast and eye-watering.

Andrew Dell outside the Court of Appeal
Andrew Dell outside the Court of Appeal after the hearing of the dispute about service charges, which were levied on all residents of 89 Holland Park

The company is appealing against a decision that the Dells are not “contractually liable” to pay the service charge demand – a ruling which itself was an appeal, the company having initially won at the first-tier tribunal.

Arguing that they should be made to pay, James Fieldsend, the company’s barrister, said that too much attention had been given by the upper tribunal to the size of the bill, which was irrelevant to whether the Dells were contractually liable.

“As has been laboriously repeated by Mr and Mrs Dell on numerous occasions, this case is thought to involve the single largest service charge claim in respect of an individual flat,” he said.

However, he claimed that did not matter and the upper tribunal judge had “erroneously considered the quantum of the costs” when deciding whether the Dells are liable.

Faced with Ms Hicks’s plans, the company had taken expert advice and consulted the flat owners, who all supported the litigation, with the Dells only saying they wanted out after July 2014.

Following a day-long hearing at the Court of Appeal last week, judges reserved their decision on the case until a later date.