The news yesterday was filled with the cheerfulness that ATE Farms who own The Crooked House have been served with an enforcement notice to rebuild it – as it was just before the suspected arson and subsequent quick demolition. 

South Staffordshire District Council who issued the enforcement notice have even gone so far as to state that it must be built back within three years.
This will be no mean feat as the structure was a little unusual to say the least, and to build something like that now, passing all safety regulations will involve time, ingenuity and a lot of money.

The owners have 30 days to appeal, which will cost a lot of money to do and given the track record of these appeals elsewhere will likely result in a loss.

Ignoring the enforcement order isn’t an option either, as that’s an offence in itself and subject to an unlimited fine. The actual amount of the fine is determined by a court based on the amount of financial benefit the demolition will have gained the owners. If the owners are then convicted here, the council can apply for a Confiscation Order to recover that benefit.

In short, if the owners rebuild the pub, it will cost them a lot of money – possibly forcing their other business into administration. If they don’t rebuild the pub, it will cost them a lot of money and they will lose the land.

But what happens then? The council will own the land and it will be up to them to find a buyer for it, which will be very difficult. Enforcement Orders are not against individuals or companies for the very reason that a company may well sell the land on and then liquidate, leaving the enforcement order moot. Enforcement Orders are against the premise/land itself. Selling the land on will not remove the Enforcement Order. 

So the current owners can try to sell the land on, if they can find a buyer. The current owners will get almost nothing for the land and the new owners will have to spend a lot to rebuild the pub.
If the council take possession of the land, they’ll have to either find that buyer or they also have the option of removing the enforcement order to make for an easier sale.

As it stands, The Crooked House is not saved yet.

There have been two notably similar cases in recent years, The Punch Bowl Inn in Lancashire and the Carlton Tavern in London. 

Both of these pubs were illegally demolished, and the developers ordered to rebuild them “brick by brick”, a phrase not used at The Crooked House, possibly due to the bricks being removed from site as quickly as possible. 

The enforcement order for The Punch Bowl took almost two years to be served, and the  developers have estimated the cost of the rebuild to be £1.5 million.

The enforcement order on The Carlton Tavern was served a lot quicker, within a month but the developer submitted an appeal and lost. The subsequent planning permission applications for the site saw new flats above the bar, and these were rejected too. The council were sticking to the “brick by brick” wording of the enforcement order.

What these two other examples share however is that the enforcement orders were in large part down to public opinion and the local community being vocally against the demolitions. They also both have quotes of “an example to deter developers”

Yet we saw with The Crooked House that the example taken from it was to remove any salvageable materials from site as quickly as possible and prevent access to assess the ability to rebuild, which along with the odd structure of the pub has in part prevented the “brick by brick” wording on their enforcement order.

So what do I think we’ll see?
Personally I think that the current owners of The Crooked House will sell most of the land it stood on. It’s been argued that they mainly wanted extra access to their land behind the pub. By selling most of the land, but keeping the extra access they’ll have gained most of what they wanted. I think we’ll then see a facsimile of the pub rebuilt by a private investment firm, but it won’t be the pub it once was, it runs the very real danger of being a folly, a tourist trap. A Disnification of The Crooked House.

But, it will hopefully serve as another example to deter developers. My main worry though is how many examples do we need to hold up?

Massive thanks to Laura Hadland who has kept a timeline of the events surrounding The Crooked House (
And to Paul Ainsworth on the CAMRA forums for his in depth knowledge of property/planning law.