Solihull family could be “homeless by Christmas” after demolition notice
A couple have said they could be homeless by Christmas after a court order was served to demolish their mobile home. Stephanie Rolfe, 41, and Stuart Macdonald, 34, said they have been told to pay an estimated £60,000 to bulldoze the property in Shirley, Solihull.
After a four-year battle with Solihull Council, the couple have been given 56 days to take apart the house, which they said was built under legislation for caravans.
Ms Rolfe and Mr Macdonald told Birmingham Live they had an honest held belief their home was lawful.
But Solihull Council insist the timber structure harms the character and appearance of the quiet cul-de-sac where it sits.
Despite neighbours writing to the town hall, Solihull has pushed ahead with a demolition order.
Stephanie Rolfe, 41, and Stuart Macdonald, 34, have been told to bulldoze their home
The couple’s home in Shirley, Solihull
The couple, who are parents to five-year-old Freddie and Mollie, two, said the decision could leave them paying a mortgage on a home they no longer live in during a cost-of-living crisis.
Mr Macdonald said: “We will be homeless by Christmas. Our son is disabled and has a helper in the local school. There’s no way we can get a house near here.”
Solihull said it recognised the family’s disappointment at the recent court order and is committed to helping.
Ms Rolfe and Mr Macdonald were granted retrospective planning permission in 2018 after converting his mother’s detached garage into a single, two storey dwelling.
Planning officers did not object to the development, but asked for a revised drainage scheme.
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A view of the home in a quiet cul-de-sac in Shirley
A view of the site where the couples home was built
Once this was given, a planning document noted the scheme should be “implemented and managed in accordance with the approved details”.
Mr Macdonald and Ms Rolfe then found a local company to build a mobile home because of the cost of building with bricks and mortar.
Ms Rolfe explained: “We found a company that construct homes under caravan legislation and therefore not requiring planning permission. So in February 2018 I contacted Solihull Council to notify them this is what our intentions are and they didn’t reply, although I’d offered them the chance to respond to that.
“We started the building in June, around six months later, and then we had a letter saying we were possibly breaching planning regulations.”
The couple applied for a Certificate of Lawful Development for reassurance, but the application was rejected by Solihull Council’s planning department. Ms Rolfe claimed they did not hear from the local authority for two months.
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The couple lost their appeal and were served a court order to demolish the home.
Ms Rolfe said: “We’ve tried to mediate with the council on this to say we’re going to be made homeless. We’ve got two young children. We’d be financially ruined. We still owe money borrowed for the mobile home and demolition costs of about £60,000.”
She continued: “We’ve offered to make affordable changes that will allow us to keep our home.”
A Solihull Council spokesperson said: “The applicant began to build the structure without planning permission in early 2018. They were informed in June 2018 the works were unauthorised and subsequently applied for a Certificate of Lawful Development, but this was refused and enforcement action commenced a month later, as required by law.”
They added the enforcement notice was appealed against and again refused, on the second occasion by the Planning Inspectorate.
The spokesperson said: “Due to the Covid pandemic, the applicant was given more time to comply with the enforcement notice. The council worked with the family for over four years to respond to enquiries and resolve the planning matter openly and fairly, however, they chose not to. The council therefore had to consider escalating the matter through the courts. All actions were undertaken in accordance with national planning legislation and guidance and have been verified though the national Planning Inspectorate at appeal.
“We fully recognise the difficult outcome of the recent High Court hearing, where the court issued a High Court Order granting the injunction and requiring compliance by November 14, 2022. As the Local Planning Authority, we have worked with the family for over four years to respond to enquiries and consider planning based applications openly and fairly with a view to finding a fair and equitable solution.
“We recognise the disappointment the recent court decision will cause and are committed to supporting the family as best we can through our housing and social service functions.”
Neighbours have voiced support for the family with John Orgill, who lives opposite them, telling Birmingham Live: “I’ve got no issue, I’m only too glad there’s housing and people in the houses. Why not use the space?”
He continued: “It almost classes as a caravan as it’s movable. If anything, I should be the one complaining. But why? It’s a young family.”
Fellow neighbour John Tranter said: “I thought when they put it up it was tasteful. They used to have a bloody great big garage there. I’m devastated for them and supportive of them keeping it.”
Shirley East councillor and leader of Solihull Green Party, Max McLoughlin, said: “As councillors we’re used to representing residents opposing new housing. But this hasn’t happened here. Over all the years this has dragged on, I’ve not had a complaint and I’ve knocked on neighbours doors to ask specifically if it’s a problem.”
He said the typical response was that people were not bothered.
Mr McLoughlin said: “We’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. There’s been a housing crisis since before I was even a councillor and we’re heading into a winter where people don’t know how they’re going to stay warm and survive.
“To think the council would not only demolish a family’s home now, but charge them for it, feels abhorrent. The home does nobody harm so why do harm in getting rid of it?”