London: The mansion designed and built by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will not be converted into an eight-house development.
The Grade II-listed property, called Undershaw, in Hindhead, Surrey, was where the author wrote many of his Sherlock Holmes stories, including ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’.
On Wednesday, a High Court judge backed Conan Doyle expert John Gibson’s challenge to Waverley Borough council’s decision to allow the Victorian house to be partially demolished and converted.
Justice Cranston said that, because of legal flaws, the council’s decisions to grant planning permission and listed building consent must be quashed.
There was strong public support for preserving Undershaw, which the author designed and where he lived from 1897 to 1907, completing 13 Sherlock Holmes stories in that time.
The 1,360 objections to the proposal included those from the Victorian Society, local MP and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-chairman of the Arts Council Sir Christopher Frayling, Julian Barnes - who set his Booker Prize-nominated novel Arthur And George in Undershaw - writer Ian Rankin and broadcaster Stephen Fry.
The council, which is to pay Gibson’s agreed costs of 20,000 pounds was given time to consider whether to appeal.
Gibson, who also gained support from Mark Gatiss, co-creator of the BBC’s Sherlock, said after the ruling: “This has been a long and difficult battle to save Undershaw and we are absolutely thrilled with the decision to quash planning permission to redevelop the property,” the Daily Mail reported.
“This is a place which is steeped in history and should be treated with reverence. Conan Doyle’s life and works are a fundamental part of British culture and arguably their stock has never been higher. We have been absolutely delighted to see enthusiasts from across the world get in touch and pledge their support to our efforts.
“We are very hopeful that this decision will signal a sea-change in attitude towards this historic property and that it will lead to it being rightly preserved as a single building - hopefully as a museum or centre where future generations can be inspired by the many stories which have been created within its walls,” he said.
Echoing the great fictional detective, solicitors Irwin Mitchell, which represented Gibson, said the council had made ‘elementary’ errors.
“We have had long-held concerns that basic errors were made by Waverley Borough Council in its decision to grant planning permission on Undershaw and this view has now been absolutely vindicated,” Andrew Lockley, head of public law, said.
“The local authority failed to ensure that it received English Heritage’s views on the plans before taking its decision, despite consultation with English Heritage being a legal requirement due to the property’s Grade II-listed status,” he said.
He also emphasised that the council had failed in its duty to reconsider the Fossway development plans following the submission of a second application on the property which would see it maintained as a single dwelling.
“Today’s decision means it is now back to the drawing board in terms of the future of Undershaw but, like John, we hope to see this property of huge cultural and historical significance preserved and treated in the manner it deserves,” he added.