Heritage fakers hold builders to ransom
Serial objectors to new building work take pay-offs from developersDaniel Foggo and Robert Booth
A GROUP that claims to campaign to protect Britainâ€™s architectural heritage accepted a secret payment of Â£10,000 to drop its objections to a Â£16m development in a seaside town.
The Euston Trust accepted the cash in return for ceasing to challenge a development in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. The scheme, which involves the demolition of a number of period properties in a conservation area, is now being built.
The trust, which has objected to dozens of developments across Britain since its inception four years ago, is also suspected of taking money from other builders. It calls itself a non-profit-making â€œnational heritage, nature and environmental preservation societyâ€.
It is one of a new wave of â€œprofessional nimbysâ€ accused of holding developers to ransom by making serial objections and tainting the efforts of genuine conservation groups.
â€œIt has to be stamped out,â€ said Adam Wilkinson, director of SAVE Britainâ€™s Heritage, the conservation campaign group. â€œIt risks queering the pitch for the rest of us.â€
David Birkbeck, director of Design for Homes, a housebuilding con-sultancy, said: â€œThis phenomenon is quite widespread. The housebuilding industry is worth more than Â£60 billion so there is plenty of money to be made.
â€œFor example, on a 45-house development where each unit sells for Â£250,000, the land alone could cost Â£3m. Interest payments on the land would be around Â£200,000 a year, which means a planning delay of three months could cost Â£50,000. In that context paying a campaigner Â£10,000 to go away is nothing.â€
The Euston Trust, an unincorporated and unregulated body, is run from a north London council flat by Terence Ewing, a convicted fraudster. It claims its mission is to protect Britainâ€™s period architecture.
It objected to the redevelopment of Smithfield market in London and Ewing told The Sunday Times he intends to target the Â£2 billion redevelopment of derelict rail yards at Kingâ€™s Cross. There is no suggestion that the developers of those schemes have made payments. However, in a minuted meeting in September 2005 with a firm of housebuilders, Keith Hammerton, the trustâ€™s then secretary, said he believed Ewing had often taken payments from other developers.
Ewing, 54, who says his only income is state benefits, studied planning law while serving a jail term for theft and forgery in the 1980s and often represents himself at court hearings. He declines to detail his groupâ€™s membership but has claimed in a letter that the trust â€” which is unrelated to a Bristol-based limited company of the same name â€” consists of â€œeight or nineâ€ people.
Ewing has used their names and addresses to file legal challenges to developments; since 1990 he has been listed by Her Majestyâ€™s Courts Service as a vexatious litigant. This means he must obtain permission from a High Court judge before making any legal submissions in his own name.
For one objection, relating to plans by London Underground to rebuild Camden Town station, he used the address of Sonia Hayward, an animal rights activist who was jailed for 15 months for attacking the home of the managing director of a pharmaceuticals firm. It is not known if her address was used with her knowledge.
In other cases he has used the address of Hammerton, who claims once to have been a priest. He was jailed last October for six years for indecently assaulting teenage boys in the 1970s. Four years ago Hammerton campaigned in vain to save the Bishopsgate goods yard in east London, a cause supported by the Prince of Wales who wrote to Hammerton praising his efforts.
In 2005 Ewing became aware of the Severn Croft redevelopment in Weston-super-Mare. Period buildings had to be demolished or partially demolished to make way for new flats and a respite centre for veterans of the armed services. Ewing and Hammerton applied for a judicial review to stop the project, but their application was rejected in April 2005 by Mr Justice Ouseley as â€œunarguably wrongâ€.
The Royal British Legion, one of the three developers of the site, was awarded legal costs of Â£6,400. To date Ewing and Hammerton have failed to pay the charity.
The trust kept up the pressure on the developers, however. Ewing informed North Somerset council that despite the court decision he intended to bring further legal challenges.
In September 2005 one of the siteâ€™s three developers, who asked not to be named, held a meeting with Hammerton at a hotel in Stoke-on-Trent. It was agreed he would be paid Â£10,000 in return for dropping his case. The other two developers, the Royal British Legion and Pegasus Homes, paid no money.
The meeting, minuted by an independent solicitor, recorded that Hammerton said he â€œsuspected for some time that T[erence] E[wing] has received payments from developers to pull out of intended judicial review challengesâ€.
One person present at the meeting said: â€œHammerton wanted Â£30,000 but settled for Â£10,000. The decision was taken simply to allow the development to progress as it had already been held up by six months.â€
John Crockford-Hawley, the councilâ€™s executive member for strategic planning, said the Euston Trust had objected to about half a dozen developments in the town. â€œEwingâ€™s reputation is of a person who infuriates developers by his systematic, forensic questioning of every minute aspect of a development,â€ he said.
Ewing denied having ever been offered or taking payments from developers and said Hammerton, from whom he has dissociated himself, had not passed on the Â£10,000. â€œI suspected Hammerton was paid but I didnâ€™t know for certain,â€ he said. â€œI havenâ€™t done anything wrong. The fact that Hammerton has received Â£10,000 behind my back doesnâ€™t reflect on me.â€