CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Inspector orders woman to take down home next to Hampstead Heath

Jita Lukka had used recycled materials on Bren Cottage

19 September, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Jita Lukka at Bren Cottage

IT was, to some, a rural idyll created from recycled materials, a low-impact eco-home for an artist and her pet dog to live quietly in a glorious spot overlooking Hampstead Heath.

But others complained it was a jerry-built eyesore, illegally constructed on a sensitive plot.

A planning inspector has had the final say and this week Jita Lukka, who built a wooden house on land in the Vale of Health, Hampstead, has been told she has four months to tear it down.

The case inspector John Murray ruled she could not prove that her building was a like-for-like replacement for a structure built by a squatter that had been in place for many years before her.

The saga of Bren Cottage – named after Ms Lukka’s dog – began last year when Camden Council issued an enforcement notice, claiming Ms Lukka, who in 2017 paid £700,000 for land known as the South Fairground, had illegally built her home.

The case hinged on whether a squatter called Robbie Litvai, who had been living on the land overlooking the Vale of Health pond for more than a decade, had built a home that Ms Lukka had improved – or whether she had built the house from scratch.

She disputed the council’s claims that it was a new building, saying she had merely improved a handmade dwelling that had been in place for many years and she had a legal right to remain.

Ms Lukka told the New Journal: “The news is a big disappointment and beyond words. This is my home and justice has not really been carried out. Now it’s time to move forward. I want to thank all the local people who have supported me. I have received cards that read ‘it seems so terribly unfair after all your hard work to make a beautiful haven’. I want to send love and kisses to them.”

Ms Lukka now has to demolish the building – created from scaffolding planks, pallet crates, caravans and sheds – or apply to the courts for a judicial review of the inspector’s decision. She added she was still taking in the news and could not say what she planned to do.

The inquiry heard evidence from neighbour Joan Burstein, who said that from “at least 2012” there has been a substantial structure on the site in which Mr Litvai had lived.

The view over the Vale of Health

Angler James Taylor, who is a regular at the Vale of Health, also said he had seen people living on the land and he could see “there was a big wooden house built there”.

He added Mr Litvai had, around eight years previously, confirmed he lived inside. But Mr Murray said he found no compelling evidence to the length of time Mr Litvai’s home had been on the land, nor that it was permanent, or the same size as Ms Lukka’s.

As well as barristers acting on behalf of Camden Council, civic groups the Heath and Hampstead Society and the Vale of Health Society offered evidence against Ms Lukka.

They were backed by Heath managers, the City of London. Heath and Hampstead Society chairman Marc Hutchinson said: “The Society and the Vale of Health Society fought alongside Camden and the City of London to get this ugly new house, illegally built on metropolitan open land, demolished. We are delighted with the inspector’s clear decision. The Societies were able to provide direct evidence as to what was, and was not, on the site before the new house was built in 2017, and this evidence was crucial to the outcome of Ms Lukka’s unsuccessful appeal.”

Mr Murray said he found Ms Lukka had failed on “the balance of probability” to prove there had been a dwelling on the land that was “substantially complete by December 2013” and her appeal should be dismissed. He also awarded costs in favour of the Town Hall and societies, with the figure to yet to be decided.

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