St John’s College in £150,000 dispute over Warwickshire hedge

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St John’s College is facing legal action from a 74 year-old retired businessman, over the restoration of a centuries-old hedge that marks the boundary between the College property and his land in Warwickshire.

Former architect Anthony Bethell took action after the college allegedly refused to reach a clear agreement over the boundaries between his one acre stretch of land, and the 1,200 acres of College-owned farmland. Bethell sought the agreement in order to improve the 168 metre hedge, which has been described as “neglected, sparse, and misshapen”. The legal process has so far cost over £80,000 between the two parties, and is estimated to climb to as much as £150,000, with the hedge described by one county court judge as the “most expensive in Warwickshire”.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Bethell says that he has been left with little choice other than legal action: “I need St John’s to agree the boundary line – and they just won’t sit down and discuss the issue face to face. They’ve ignored all my approaches and left me with no choice but to go to court. I want to do this properly. If I went ahead and did the work without establishing where precisely the boundary lies, I could end up creating all sort of problems which would see the College coming after me in future.”

Speaking to The Oxford Student, however, St John’s bursar Professor Andrew Parker claims: “Contrary to what sections of the press have reported, the College engaged with Mr Bethell prior to the proceedings and agreed the position of the relevant boundary with him and his agents. Mr Bethell has now brought proceedings claiming a different location for the boundary. It is open to Mr Bethell to bring these proceedings to a close simply by agreeing to adhere to the previously concluded agreement.”

The hedge in question was constructed in 1686 as a mechanism to divide The Wasperton and The Heathcote, two historic Warwickshire estates, and came under the ownership of St John’s College in 1785. Bethell argues that the repairs are essential, describing the hedge as an “eyesore” in a “poor state of repair”.

Bethell even commissioned a report detailing specific justifications for the restoration of the hedge, which highlighted its significance to the wildlife within the area: ‘Well managed hedgerows are important for birds and other wildlife, forming safe and sheltered nesting areas, as well as providing linear corridors for migrating birds.” The report also recommended the restoration of the hedge using the Midlands Style, which involves the use of hazel stakes, hawthorn and blackthorn.

Tony Bethell (The Telegraph)
Tony Bethell (The Telegraph)

Bethell, who with his wife Eileen, runs a charitable organisation that serves deprived children throughout the Midlands, has himself lamented at the growing cost of the affair, stating: “We could all save ourselves a lot of time and money if they would just sit down and talk about this simple matter of the boundary and any responsibilities over repair and maintenance.”

The full trial is to be held towards the end of the month.

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