An 80-year-old owner of a Coleraine guesthouse whose wife died amid the stress of a lengthy battle with the authorities over PVC windows in an historic building which has links to literary greats like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens says he will “wait and see” if planners now back off after a judge said he has been through enough.
Winston Wallace, who runs Breezemount Manor on Coleraine’s Castlerock Road, has been locked in a dispute with planning chiefs for decades and has been brought to court several times.
In the latest hearing on Monday at Coleraine Magistrates Court, District Judge Des Perry ordered an absolute discharge saying Mr Wallace had “suffered enough” and said it would be a “disgrace” if planners continue to take action against the pensioner who still works in the B&B.
A defence lawyer said Mr Wallace’s wife had passed away during the dispute and he is “emotionally and financially exhausted” and has put Breezemount up for sale and “faces financial destitution”.
Speaking after the court case, Mr Wallace said he was delighted with the judge’s remarks but said he would “just have to wait and see” what the planners do now.
He said: “There is a whole history, it is a long story and it has been torturous and my wife Irene died in the middle of it due to all the anxiety. We have had no pleasure in the last lot of years.
“After running an insurance brokers for 42 years my wife and I retired. We were very interested in historic buildings and we bought this place. She was my right hand and going to these courts and one thing and the other she took ill and she died on July 6, 2012, aged 76.”
With everything that has happened Mr Wallace was pleased with the remarks of the judge.
“I was absolutely elated at the court, the judge was very fair and understood the situation. It goes back to 1999. It was a derelict building and we spent £200,000 of our own money restoring it.
“In the course of the renovation the fire authority refused to accept replacement wooden windows. They were 150 years old and completely rotten and we had to pull them all out and hey recommended PVC windows from a fire point of view.
“We opened in Easter that year and in 2007 we got this rocket from the planning office telling us to take out the PVC windows and replace them with wooden single glazed windows.
“That was when the whole thing blew up and battles started. I have five box files of correspondence fighting with them and I have been at court five times.”
He said unknown to him “legal charges were put on the deeds of the property” which he said prevented him from borrowing money to extend the B&B and on top of that he said getting grants as a listed building were blocked.
Mr Wallace said it would cost him “£100,000” to replace the windows and said he had not the capital to do that and because he is “totally exhausted” by the battle he has now put the B&B up for sale.
He said the Ulster Museum had put in PVC windows ahead of being made a listed building just before his scheme and he said that had “created a precedent”.
A spokeswoman for Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council, which controls planning in the area, said: “Mr Wallace appeared before the Court on 6 November 2015 where he pleaded guilty to not complying with the terms of a listed building enforcement notice.
“This required the replacement of unauthorised uPVC windows in Breezemount Manor, a Grade B1 listed building, with timber sliding sash windows by October 2007. The commitment made at this court appearance was that two windows would be replaced by April 2016. To date, no windows have been replaced.
“The Council takes breaches of planning control seriously and is committed to resolve this breach of planning control. The Council notes the comments of the Magistrate at Mr Wallace’s most recent appearance at Court on 11 April 2016.”
The court heard planners ordered Mr Wallace to rip out the PVC windows and replace them with traditional sash windows at the historic property. It was built in 1820 and was the childhood home of artist Hugh Thomson who made his name illustrating books for literary giants Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Mr Wallace was taken to court by planners as his failure to replace the windows meant he was in breach of a planning enforcement notice which was issued in 2007.
The case came to court again at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday this week but after hearing Mr Wallace has suffered the loss of his wife and is unable to pay to replace the windows, District Judge Des Perry issued an absolute discharge and only ordered him to pay a fraction of the costs of planners bringing the legal action.
And the judge told a prosecutor it would be a “disgrace” if further proceedings are issued against Mr Wallace.
Earlier in the hearing, a prosecution lawyer said sliding sash windows at a listed building were replaced with PVC windows which breached planning conditions and an order was served on Mr Wallace to carry out remedial work but it has not been carried out.
A defence lawyer said Mr Wallace tried to have Breezemount de-listed but ironically it was not in a “bad enough condition” for that to succeed.
The prosecution lawyer said the planners’ view is that Mr Wallace “is the author of his own downfall” claiming the windows were removed without consultation with them.
The lawyer said with the windows not replaced it constitutes an ongoing offence.
Judge Perry noted that the costs of fixing up the house could be “astronomical” for Mr Wallace.
He asked if there is the possibility of further court action and the prosecutor said there is.
The prosecutor added that over a period of time Mr Wallace said he would carry out out the work but he had not and the case was initially in court in 2009 and it was not brought back to court until 2013.
He said this was the first time planners had been made aware Mr Wallace’s finances “are extreme”.
The prosecutor said there were £1,000 costs in bringing the matter to court and Judge Perry said he would order Mr Wallace just to pay £400 of that.