Council wins complex property case

A COURT case involving a Shenley house which could have come straight out of Dickens’ Bleak House has ended in victory for Hertsmere borough council.

The case, which was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice and centred on complex property issues, will now take its place in the history books as case law.

It centred on the property Porterslea which sits in the middle of Shenley Park and is occupied by Caroline Lovat. She wanted to acquire the freehold of the house and the 1.4 acres of land surrounding it and the Central London County Court had previously agreed.

But the borough council went to appeal over the decision and not only was the council awarded its costs but made case law in the process.

Sajida Bijle, Hertsmere’s director of resources, welcomed the court’s decision. She said: “This was a complex case which has been carefully considered and I am glad the courts found in our favour.

“The status of a property, the land that adjoins it or surrounds it, were intrinsic parts of the arguments put forward and it was that, along with housing law, which the judges had to consider.”

Porterslea is on the former Shenley Hospital site where it was occupied by staff until the hospital closed in the 1990s.

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At that time part of the grounds was sold for housing development and the remainder kept as a rural green space called Shenley Park of which Hertsmere owns the freehold.

In 1993 Hertsmere leased Shenley Park to the charity, Shenley Park Trust, for a 150-year term. Two years later the trust granted a 125-year lease of Porterslea and its grounds to Mr and Mrs Lovat on the understanding it would not carry any right to acquire the freehold of the house.

But Mrs Lovat argued that a change in housing law gave her the right to do so and the argument was upheld in the Central London County Court.

Appealing against that decision, Hertsmere’s QC Joanne Wicks, argued that the approach to the interpretation of the legislation by the county court judge had produced, “absurd results which could never have been intended by Parliament.”

The case hinged on the meaning of the word “adjoining” and in making his ruling, Appeal Court Judge, Lord Rimer, referred to Bleak House to demonstrate that Dickens’ words illustrated the point that a user of the word “adjoining” might not necessarily be using it as meaning “touching”.

The court allowed the appeal and ordered Mrs Lovat to pay all of the council’s costs, esimated at �22,000. While she can continue to enjoy her rights as a leaseholder, the ultimate ownership of Porterslea remains with the borough council.

Mrs Bijle added: “This means that the land on which the property sits will be protected for generations to come. This unusual case will be now used as case law in similar instances, which is particularly gratifying where public money and assets are at stake.”