Couple told to pay £300,000 to buyers of £1m barn
Former owners of £1m barn conversion are told to pay £300,000 after failing to tell prospective buyer couple that Soho House’s neon-lit Mollie’s Motel and Diner would be built ‘next door’
- Philip and Elisabeth Ash advertised £1.085m barn conversion in Oxfordshire
- Failed to tell Adrian and Lisa Powell about plans for nearby diner and motel
- Mrs Powell learned about plans at her pony club after contracts were exchanged
- Judge has ordered Ashes to pay the Powells £110,000 and £175,000 court costs
- Larger 79-room motel since opened at a star-studded reception last January
A couple who failed to tell the buyers of their £1m property about plans for a nearby American-style diner and motel now face a £300,000 bill after losing their court battle.
Philip Ash, 66, and his wife Elisabeth, 62, advertised their property as ‘a stunning barn conversion with excellent equestrian facilities’ set in countryside near Buckland village, in Oxfordshire.
But they failed to tell househunters Adrian and Lisa Powell that plans had already been approved for a 50s ‘Grease’-style diner and motel, with a flood-lit car park and neon signs on adjoining land.
When they found out, the Powells immediately pulled out of the sale – which was due to go through a day later – and sued the Ashes for return of their deposit and damages.
A judge has now ruled that the Ashes ‘knowingly gave false information to the buyers’, and they have been ordered to hand the Powells £110,000 and pay more than £175,000 court costs.
The house eventually sold to another buyer for £985,000, some £100,000 cheaper than the Powells had been set to pay, the court heard.
Philip Ash, 66, and his wife Elisabeth, 62, (pictured) advertised their property as ‘a stunning barn conversion with excellent equestrian facilities’ set in quintessential English countryside
The neon-lit Mollie’s Motel and Diner has since been built by owners Soho House
Adrian and Lisa Powell (pictured outside court in November) sued for over £300,000, demanding a refund of the deposit they paid for the house and land plus damages, including to cover the cost of the horse – and won their case
A map showing the location of the barn conversion and the new motel near Buckland, Oxfordshire
Judge Simon Monty QC said the Ashes had incorrectly answered questions on the sellers’ questionnaire relating to whether they knew of any development plans that would affect the property, known as Lake Barn.
The Ashes said ‘no’ when in fact 61-room plans for the new Mollie’s Motel and Diner had already been approved.
It also transpired they had even been vocal objectors and ‘significantly involved in leading the objections to planning for the development.’
During a trial in November, Central London County Court heard that the Powells had been looking for a new home for six years before finding the picturesque barn conversion, on the bank of a lake on an old dairy farm just off the A420.
They were so sure they had found their perfect home, which came with its own paddock land, that they even bought a horse in preparation for moving in, the judge was told.
But they said they were ‘horrified’ to then learn of the ‘in your face’ motel plans.
Contracts had been exchanged on the £1.085m sale, but Mrs Powell said it was only during an event at the Old Berks Hunt Pony Club that she learned of the proposed development.
She said she thought the motel was limited to being a bigger version of a disused Little Chef restaurant which had sat on the site, adjoining the paddock land.
But further research revealed that a hotel, with diner and car park, was in the offing.
Property developer and father-of-two Mr Powell, 53, told the judge from the witness box that he was ‘horrified [and] shocked to find this development next-door.’
A larger 79-room motel has since been opened at a star-studded reception attended by Declan Donnelly, Jeremy Clarkson and Paloma Faith in January last year.
Philip and Elisabeth Ash failed to tell househunters Adrian and Lisa Powell that plans had already been approved for the 50s ‘Grease’-style diner and motel, with a flood-lit car park and neon signs on adjoining land
The diner features neon lit signs emblazoned with ‘Mollies’
These plans submitted to the council ahead of the diner being built, show locations for the signage
The barn and paddock have since sold to another buyer very recently for the reduced price of £985,000, the court heard
Giving evidence in court, horse-loving Mrs Powell said she had been ‘excited’ after spotting the property Lake Barn (pictured) in 2017
Following revelation of the motel plans, the Powells wrote to the Ashes, rescinding the contract and then making a lower £900,000 offer for the house.
But the Ashes refused the new offer and claimed that it was they who were rescinding the contract because the Powells had failed to complete and so the £108,500 deposit was forfeit.
In court, the Powells claimed that they were entitled to pull out of the deal and refund of the deposit, because they had been given incorrect information by the sellers in the questionnaire.
However, the Ashes claimed that, in filling in the questionnaire, they believed they were only answering questions in relation to the barn itself, not its surrounding land.
The motel is not visible from the barn, but only from the paddock area, which is separated from their home by a few yards, they said, and they believed the form they were filling in only applied to the house.
Mrs Ash said: ‘You can’t see the paddocks or the built motel from Lake Barn.
‘Unless it was 20 storeys high, you would never be able to see anything on the Little Chef site from Lake Barn.’
They accused the Powells of using the development in a ‘cynical’ and ‘dishonest’ attempt to ‘chip away’ at the agreed purchase price and get the house cheaper.
Ruling, Judge Monty said the Powells did not claim that the Ashes tried to ‘cheat or deliberately mislead’ them – but that the answers they gave on the form were wrong.
He said: ‘The motel development did affect the barn and paddock, the Ashes knew that was the case, and they should have said so.
‘It is plain, in my judgment, that Mr and Mrs Ash played a significant role in objecting to the development, which they then – in my view, wholly unconvincingly – sought to downplay in their evidence in order to bolster their point that they genuinely did not have the development in mind when answering the [questionnaire].’
The neon-lit Mollie’s Motel and Diner has since been built by owners Soho House and was opened at a star-studded reception attended by Declan Donnelly (left, with his wife Ali Astall) Jeremy Clarkson (right) broadcaster Richard Bacon (right) and Paloma Faith in January this year
The American style diner at the new motel complex near Buckland, Oxfordshire
Inspired by the classic American diner, Mollie’s is a motel, diner and drive-thru
He accepted that the Powells only became aware of the full extent of the planning permission in mid-March 2018 and then very quickly pulled out of the sale.
‘The Powells were entitled either to walk away from the contract entirely, or to make an offer to purchase the property for a lower price – as they did,’ he added.
‘In the event, Mr and Mrs Ash rejected the lower offer, and I do not consider it wrong for the Powells to have made it in circumstances where they had made preparations to move house.
‘I reject the suggestion that it demonstrates an intention to chip away at the price at the last minute.
‘In my view, the true position is that they thought that Mr and Mrs Powell were or must have been aware of the development, and therefore there was no need to say anything.’
But he added: ‘Even if they thought that the Powells knew about the development, they could not have thought that answering ‘no’ to the questions was correct.’
The judge ordered that the Ashes return the Powells’ £108,500 deposit and interest on it, as well reimburse them for costs thrown away due to the cancelled purchase – amounting to over £110,000.
He also said the Ashes would have to pay the Powells’ costs of the case, with £65,000 due up front of a bill which could be as high as £97,000.
Their own legal bills for the case are thought to come to around £109,000, meaning the couple face shelling out about £300,000 in total for the case.
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