Judicial Review Seeks Answers To ‘Mysterious’ Conan Doyle Planning Decision

Legal Proceedings Launched To Safeguard The Future Of The House Where Sherlock Holmes Books Were Written


Plans to redevelop the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into nine separate houses have been placed under the microscope following the launch of judicial review proceedings in the High Court by Conan Doyle scholar John Gibson.

The house, known as Undershaw, was built by the Sherlock Holmes author in 1897 and is  the place where he wrote some of his most famous work – including The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The future of the Grade II listed property in the Surrey village of Hindhead has been in doubt following the closure in 2005 of the hotel which occupied the building.

The house has been at the centre of its very own drama involving the Undershaw Preservation Trust, Waverley Borough Council and the developer Fossway Ltd which wants to change the property into flats and townhouses.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell, acting on behalf of John Gibson, the Undershaw Preservation Trust Director, have started judicial review proceedings in the High Court in London in an attempt to overturn the decision to award planning permission to Fossway Ltd

Boasting a raft of high profile supporters including Stephen Fry, author Julian Barnes, the local MP (and now Culture Secretary) Jeremy Hunt and the former head of the Arts Council of England, Sir Christopher Frayling, the Undershaw Preservation Trust was established in 2009 to fight the plans and ensure the building is retained as a single dwelling.

The High Court is being asked to quash the Council’s decision on the grounds that the decision to grant listed building consent and planning permission was unlawful.

John Gibson, Director of the Undershaw Preservation Trust who is both a chartered surveyor and the author of several books about Conan Doyle, said: “The Council’s decision was certainly a mysterious one. First of all, I find it very peculiar that this along with other applications should be judged on pragmatic reasons alone. The historic associations of a building have to be considered, particularly where a listed building is concerned – otherwise, what is the point of listing them in the first place?

“There were over 1,300 objections in the form of petitions and letters and it surprises me how much the planners have ignored public opinion. Amongst others, The Victorian Society and Haslemere Town Council also recommended refusal.”

Mr Gibson also added that he was concerned that the judgement could lead to other cases in the future involving buildings of historical significance.

He said: “Waverley Council’s decision gives the green flag to every speculative developer that they can get a listed building, let it go to wrack and ruin and then develop it at a profit.”

Conan Doyle purchased the land for Undershaw in 1896. The house was situated at a height of 850 metres - something which was considered beneficial for his wife who was suffering from tuberculosis.  During his time in Undershaw, the author wrote 14 Sherlock Holmes stories and entertained other literary greats including Peter Pan author, JM Barrie, and the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker. Undershaw is believed to be rare amongst writers’ houses as the author is believed to have had a direct input into the building’s design.

Andrew Lockley, Partner and Head of Public Law at national firm Irwin Mitchell, commented:

“Conan Doyle is not just a leading author - his works have inspired over 200 films and 400 fan clubs across the world. This house is a part of his history and it is important to remember that if these plans go ahead, there will be no going back. The work will be irreversible and will prevent the public from accessing the property.

“My client has campaigned tirelessly for Undershaw to remain as one house and ensure a more acceptable solution to preserving the building is found, such as a single residence, a museum or small hotel. The house is hugely significant from an architectural and historical point of view, but we say that the local authority when considering this case, did not apply the legal statutory test correctly. You could say the mistakes were elementary.”

Irwin Mitchell also argue that the planning committee were not advised correctly in relation to a viable alternative plan for the property which has now received planning permission and would keep the building as a single dwelling while preserving all options for the future.