Councillor admits illegally renovating 14th century cottage that appeared on TV property show

Barby Dashwood-Morris' house, The Old Priest's House in Hellingly, East Sussex. SUS-170205-103816001
Barby Dashwood-Morris' house, The Old Priest's House in Hellingly, East Sussex. SUS-170205-103816001

A Conservative district councillor – and former chair of the planning committee – has admitted illegally altering her 14th century Listed cottage that was featured on a Channel 4 property show.

The £830,000 property was held up on Sarah Beeney’s Channel 4 show Double Your House for Half the Money as a good example of how to design and renovate an old property.

Barby Dashwood-Morris SUS-170205-103755001

Barby Dashwood-Morris SUS-170205-103755001

But Barby Dashwood-Morris, 70, failed to get planning permission from Wealden District Council – where she once sat on the planning committee.

She admitted six of 22 different counts of executing the demolition or alteration of a building affecting its Listed character when she appeared at Brighton Magistrates’ Court.

Some of the alterations to The Priest House in Church Lane, Hellingly, were alleged to have been carried out while Councillor Dashwood-Morris was chairman of Wealden District Council’s planning committee.

It is understood she bought the house, which dates back to 1374, in September 1997 for £224,200. It is now estimated to be worth in excess of £830,000, having more than trebled in value in less than 20 years.

Councillor Dashwood-Morris told of her pride in 2013 when she and her des res featured on Sarah Beeny’s show.

The house boasts a vaulted entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, kitchen/breakfast room, four bedrooms, one with a shower room, bathroom, studio, attic room, walled garden, a working well, a detached oak framed cart lodge with storage, and around 0.1 acres of land.

Features of note within the house include a vaulted entrance hall, a triple aspect drawing room with an inglenook fireplace, oak floorboards and exposed beams.

At the time the house appeared on television, Cllr Dashwood-Morris, who was then chair of the council’s planning south committee, said, “They were scheduled to spend two-and-a-half hours but actually were here for over four and they were so very enthusiastic about how the house looked – ‘even better than they hoped’.”

She added, “I was thrilled. Although not a professional I do ‘dabble’ and was responsible for all the design ideas throughout the house and it was a huge compliment to know others thought it was worth filming.

“Because The Priest House is over 600-years-old and Listed, I worked closely with Wealden District Council Conservation department to ensure all the plans met with their approval.

“I started by commissioning an archaeological/historical report that gave the details of the changes made over the years.

“This gave a clear insight into what was precious and needed to be preserved and those areas that had little merit so could be altered or removed.

“Renovating a home of this age means finding and using a lot of craftsmen to undertake many rare and often forgotten skills and understandably that costs money.

“So to keep to the budget I worked with a number of wonderful Sussex specialists who taught me some of their skills and I undertook many of the more labour intensive tasks myself.

“The entire project took over 10 years as I worked on one room at a time and after what seemed to be a life-time the house was complete.

“I have learned so much and the finished house if an example of how to turn an ancient Sussex Hall into a home that meets all the comforts of modern living.”

But she was forced to step down as the Chair of Wealden District Council when she came under investigation for allegedly breaching planning rules while renovating her home.

The council confirmed that the Chiddingly and East Hoathly councillor would not stand for a second year as Chair as she faced an ongoing inquiry by its planning department.

Charges were laid following a detailed probe into claims she breached planning rules while renovating the 14th Century building.

The changes are said to have been carried out between October 1997 and December 2015.

Among the charges she has admitted are removing a barley twist banister and associated rail and replacing them with a glass panel and new handrail.

She has also pleaded guilty to removing a partition between a staircase and a bedroom and replacing them with modern glass without obtaining building consent, and removing a storage area in the sloping roof.

The councillor also admitted removing the ceiling to the hallway including the associated joists and beam.

When the property was put on the market in 2010, estate agents stated: “Working closely with national and local conservation experts and craftsmen the property has been completely and carefully renovated and thoroughly maintained to a very high standard with an eye for detail to ensure no loss of ancient architectural features whilst creating a contemporary internal style and comfortable home.

“All external vertical tiles have been replaced with a stock of spare hand made clay tiles remaining at the property.

“An in depth archaeological survey by University College, London giving details of the development of this ancient Sussex Hall is available upon request.”

Cllr Dashwood-Morris was bailed to a hearing later this month.