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Court Orders Demolition of Illegal Chateau

A French court has ordered the demolition of a 3000m2 chateau on the French Riviera, constructed without planning permission.

Located in hills overlooking the town of Grasse on the French Riviera sits a spectacular and beautiful neo-Renaissance chateau that boasts countless suites, two helipads, three swimming pools, and magnificent grounds.

The chateau is a venue for exclusive weddings and parties for the wealthy and has been used as a location for film sets.

All who have set foot in the property are enraptured by its stunning design and architecture.

Except that few visitors will have been aware that the property was constructed illegally, on a fraudulent basis.

Over a 10-year period from 2004 the owner of the property, Patrick Diter, a wealthy property dealer, turned a modest 200m2 derelict farmhouse into a 3000m2 sumptuous villa under the noses of a complacent council, who seemed for many years to have turned a blind eye to what was happening.

He had purchased the farmhouse with 35 hectares of land in 2000 for €1.6m, and in 2004 sold off several hectares to a Franco-English couple in 2004 for €3m. They later became two of the principal complainants over the subsequent redevelopment of the property.

Other neighbours first became aware of new building activity on the site when in 2005 a digger smashed through the garden wall of their property. When they rang the local council to find out more about the planning permission they were told no planning application had been made.

Nevertheless, building work continued on the site, and it was only after persistent complaints by neighbours that in 2006 the council forced the owner to make a planning application. Much to everyone’s surprise the council granted consent retrospectively for around 1,000m2 that had been built, despite the fact that the property was located in a protected area.

The stance of the local mayor, who consistently failed to condemn the works, or take enforcement action, and who only joined the legal action in 2016, has been widely criticised by those who have objected to the development.

By all accounts the owner seriously misled the local council about the extent of the works, claiming falsely that some buildings being constructed were not enclosed, which turned out not to be the case, and that there was an existing pool at the property, also false. The owner also undertook the unauthorised creation of a 600m long access road to the property, in the process removing hundreds of trees in a protected woodland.

In 2012 the Court of Appeal sitting in Marseille annulled another planning consent that had been granted in 2008 by the council, following an action bought by neighbours.

Nevertheless, building work continued, but in a legal judgement handed down by the local court in Grasse in June, the judge ruled that the illegal works should be demolished, demanding «la remise en état totale du site». The planning consent granted originally by the council in 2006 was annulled.

The owner of the property was given a suspended three-year sentence and he and members of his family fined €1.2m in damages and interest. The French prosecutor had demanded a fine of €90m, as well as demolition of the chateau. That demand was based on a fine of €6,000 for every m2 that had been constructed illegally, with the prosecutor claiming "l'absence de transparence, l'opacité du dossier, les fraudes et les manœuvres de la famille Diter".

The owner has made an appeal against the ruling and a hearing is likely to take place next year. Even should the ruling be upheld, it is likely be be many years before the local authorities enforce demolition of the property, and there is some question as to whether it will ever happen.

The whole episode stands in contrast to a a related incident several years ago, when another chateau owner demolished their chateau without consent, apparently in error.

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This article was featured in our Newsletter dated 08/08/2017

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