The owners of Britain’s largest privately-owned stately home have achieved a major success in their quest for more than £100 million in compensation to repair damage done to its monumental architecture by mining subsidence. The Court of Appeal ruled that the property’s owners had submitted valid damage notices that met the requirements of the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991.
Grade 1 listed Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, former seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam, has a frontage some 70m longer than that of Buckingham Palace, covers an area of over 2.5 acres and is set in extensive grounds. The Fitzwilliam family owed much of its fortune to the coal under the land surrounding the house and the area is honeycombed with deep mine shafts. As part of the war effort in the 1940s, mining was extended under the park and the house itself.
The property’s owners – Marcus and Giles Newbold, whose brother Paul recently died – say that mining subsidence damage to the building’s fabric has proceeded apace over the last decade and are seeking compensation ‘likely to be in excess of £100m’ from the Coal Authority (the authority).
Damage notices were lodged in 2007 and 2009; however the authority rejected them as invalid on grounds that the particulars provided did not meet the requirements of the act. It was pointed out, inter alia, that only Paul Newbold had been named as the claimant in the notices although the three brothers jointly owned the property’s freehold. The validity of the notices was of central importance due to the six-year limitation period contained within the act.
The brothers succeeded in establishing the validity of the notices at first instance and, in dismissing the authority’s challenge to that decision, the court ruled that they had been validly given by professional agents on the brothers’ behalf. The authority could have been in no doubt that it was the owners of the property that were giving notice and the fact that only Peter was named as a claimant made no difference to that position. The court’s ruling means that the authority must now fully consider the brothers’ compensation claims according to law.