The University of Chester has got that sinking feeling after a dedicated gardener defeated its plans for a new boathouse in a David versus Goliath victory.
Dr Robin Witter and wife Heather have lovingly tended their riverside garden in Sandy Lane for more than 20 years where they enjoy peace and tranquillity.
But they feared university proposals to replace a dilapidated boathouse with a much larger two-storey ‘community rowing and fitness facility’ would put their plants in the shade.
Dr Witter, 74, who ironically is the owner of AC Canoe Products Ltd, turned to the law and cited documents banning ‘trade or business’ use of the meadows dating back to Victorian times.
Covenants from 1896 restricted the area to private use as ‘gardens or pleasure grounds’.
And now the university’s multi-million-pound plans will be staying on the drawing board after Judge Martin Rodger QC, presiding in the Upper Tribunal, agreed with him.
No amount of money would be enough to compensate Dr Witter for the damage to his beloved garden on the river bank, he said.
The new boathouse, complete with ultra-modern zinc cladding, would be ‘overbearing’ and ‘visually intrusive’, he added.
It would be ‘alien to the locality’ and ‘would provide a particularly unattractive backdrop to the Witters’ carefully tended garden’.
The Witters do not wish to comment at the moment but Mrs Witter gave a flavour of their views when she objected to the university’s planning application which was narrowly agreed by Cheshire West and Chester Council ’s planning committee in 2014.
She wrote: “Years have been spent on our garden and now is the time for us to relax and enjoy it, any changes such as the proposed building will take away what we’ve worked for all these years. Mr Witter has suffered a stroke and therefore needs peace in our garden.”
Neighbours who fought the plans at the time are elated at Dr Witter’s victory.
David Morris, a former fine art lecturer in Liverpool, who lives in Dee Banks, is ‘very pleased’ with the ruling as he was particularly concerned about traffic and parking problems impacting on the neighbourhood.
“The law is the law – just because you are a university..,” he commented. “And there are alternative sites.”
He added:”I can understand Robin’s feelings as he has worked for years and years on that garden and it would have taken the light and the sun and everything from him.”
The university has ambitions to create first class rowing facilities to increase participation and possibly establish a North West University Boat Race. The plans showed boat storage at ground floor with changing rooms, showers and a training room on the first floor.
A spokesman for the University of Chester said: “The university has received the decision and will consider its implications and future action in the light of professional advice.”