Revenge of the village Wine Society! A wealthy Surrey enclave is in a ferment over a couple’s plan to build two new houses on one plot… As angry neighbours reveal to MARK PALMER, the backlash couldn’t be more middle class
As a former competitive figure skater, Emma McGuinness must have grown accustomed to icy conditions.
But that doesn’t make the glacial chill she’s experiencing in her plush Surrey neighbourhood any easier to deal with during an 18-month court planning battle that now awaits a judge’s decision. It’s as if she’s been frozen out.
‘Let’s just say the whole thing has been a shock — and, of course, it’s disappointing but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,’ says Mrs McGuinness, speaking exclusively to the Mail on the doorstep of her four-bedroom, £1.5 million house in Oxshott, Surrey, while her two young children and the family dog buzz about on a sunny summer’s afternoon.
The ‘seeing what happens’ part will be a defining moment for home owners, estate agents and property developers in Oxshott, all keen to cash in on the village’s notorious affluence.
It’s a wealth powered in part by money-bags footballers and their wives, who have gravitated here in the past decade or so, and who like nothing better than buying a palatial home, demolishing it and building another one: bigger, better, brasher.
Emma McGuiness,41, (left) and her husband Terry, 45, want to knock down their house in Surrey to build two new ones
Mrs McGuinness, 41, and her softly spoken husband, Terry, 45, who runs a catering company near Heathrow airport with his brother, are not in the financial premier league — but they do want to knock down their house in The Ridgeway, a sought-after private road 200 yards or so off Oxshott’s main street.
What’s more, they have planning permission to do so and to replace it with two houses on the same corner plot — one for the McGuinnesses and one for Mrs McGuinness’s parents.
But Ridgeway Oxshott Management Ltd (ROML), which owns the roads and verges within the enclave and is made up of Ridgeway residents, is seeking an injunction to stop them on the grounds that the McGuinnesses signed a deed specifying they only had the right to use the road and services for one house.
In court, ROML argued that not abiding by the deed would drive a coach and horses through the covenant drawn up in the 1930s — when the houses in The Ridgeway were built — which specified that there should be only one house on each of the 48 plots.
‘I am dead against it,’ says Alan Couzens, who has lived near the McGuinnesses’ house for 20 years. ‘This is all about planners not protecting the character and integrity of an estate with covenants on it — simply because the council wants to meet its targets for new homes.’
The McGuinnesses want to build two houses so that Mrs McGuinness can look after her parents.
‘Following an accident my father had, we would like them to be here so we can keep an eye on them and help them out,’ says Emma, who is now a hot yoga and Pilates teacher in five nearby locations.
But that doesn’t wash with the neighbours, one of whom said it amounted to ‘tosh’.
Emma McGuiness (pictured) and her husband moved to The Ridgeway, a sought-after private road 200 yards or so off Oxshott’s main street, a decade ago
The fall-out has been divisive and shines a light on day-to-day life in leafy Oxshott, about 40 minutes from London.
In his statement to Central London County Court, Mr McGuinness said he and his wife, who moved to The Ridgeway ten years ago, have been ‘shunned and ostracised’ and ‘lost touch’ with their neighbours during an ‘extremely difficult’ two years.
We were involved in Christmas and summer gatherings with all our neighbours. This has since ceased with us not being invited to any further events arranged by them,’ Mr McGuinness told Judge Simon Monty.
‘What I’m talking about is things like Emma no longer being part of the wine society and not mixing like she did — not having conversations at the gate and not having summer picnics with people.’
Indeed, one neighbour says: ‘Whatever happens, Emma will not be allowed to return to the wine society. That’s how seriously we take this matter.’
Another fumes: ‘Never mind wine, we wouldn’t have her over for Pimm’s. We’re not being Nimbies, we just don’t want all this noise and dust. We won’t allow it.’
This is a sore spot for Emma: ‘The wine club is a WhatsApp group and we would meet in the pub to have a natter and a gossip,’ she says.
The stakes are high. If Judge Monty rules in favour of the injunction, the McGuinnesses’ planning consent will be worth nothing, but the amount they will have to pay in legal fees will be huge.
One source told the Mail that they may end up with a bill of £300,000 if instructed to pay ROML’s costs — and will have to live with the thought that perhaps they should have just built one big house and installed Mrs McGuinness’s parents in a wing or linked annexe rather than holding out for two separate dwellings.
Even if the judge throws out the injunction and 21 months of building works begin, ROML will be looking for some £80,000 from the McGuinnesses in compensation for the disruption it will cause.
The couple’s neighbours are seeking an injunction to block Terry and Emma McGuiness from demolishing their house
Either way, it would seem that Mrs McGuinness won’t be swishing any chardonnay around her glass with her neighbours for some time to come.
But at least she and her husband will be welcome at the Oxshott Social Club (founded 1907), of which Mr McGuinness is a full, £35-a-year ‘playing member’, meaning that he can use the two full-size snooker tables and enjoy a pint for under a fiver.
He’ll always be welcome here,’ says social club manager Sarah Goodheart. ‘This is meant to be green belt and so there are often arguments about building more houses. Look at the plot next to us. There used to be one house there and now there are three.’
The Ridgeway is positively humble compared with Oxshott’s gated Crown Estate. Here, mock-Tudor, mock-Georgian, mock-Edwardian and mock-Victorian mansions make a mockery of the cost of living crisis.
With or without twinned Doric column porticos, houses on this estate start at around £6 million and head north from there. Last year, a developer called Stately Homes (‘let us discover your dream’) put Hampton Hall, with a prospective 70 rooms, on the market for £29 million — prospective because it hasn’t actually been built yet.
The Crown Estate is where former England footballers John Terry and Jamie Redknapp and Wimbledon winner Sir Andy Murray used to live, and where Cheryl Cole dumped her ‘love rat’ husband Ashley (a teammate of Terry) for playing away.
It’s where Max Clifford, the kiss-and-tell middle man, lived until taking up residence as a guest of Her Majesty at Littlehey prison in Cambridgeshire, after being found guilty of indecent assault on young women.
There’s another reason why the stakes are so high over the outcome of the McGuinness court case. In the estate’s cul-de-sac stands a house called Willow Cottage, which has been bought by a developer and is currently rented out. The developer is the same Stately Homes which is hoping to shift Hampton Hall.
It would seem that Mrs McGuinness won’t be swishing any chardonnay around her glass with her neighbours for some time to come
The company has planning permission to build five houses on the Willow Cottage plot, plus a brand new spur road leading off the cul-de-sac.
Mr Couzens lives opposite with his wife and two children and he’s not happy.
‘They’ll be cheaply built shoe boxes entirely out of keeping with the rest of the estate — but there’s no way they will go ahead if our injunction on the McGuinnesses’ house is successful. So much is riding on this,’ says Mr Couzens, who works for National Highways.
Mrs McGuinness’s father, Simon Barnett, submitted his own statement to the court, giving his address as Cap d’Antibes, South of France.
‘If he has a house there he could probably afford to buy his own one here and still be close to his daughter,’ says one Ridgeway resident.
Mr Barnett’s court submission began with him saying that he ‘previously worked for [HM] King Charles in his present home Highgrove, dating back from the time he was married to HRH Princess Diana’.
He went on: ‘Surgery in 2012 after a historic stomach tumour left me in intensive care for some ten days and close to death.’
And then, in 2020, shortly after planning consent for the two houses was granted, Mr Barnett had what he calls ‘a catastrophic, life-changing injury after a fall . . . which left me permanently disabled and in need of permanent care.
‘This made the proposed dwelling all the more important to my wife and I . . . it would allow us to incorporate things like a stairlift and other specialised facilities’.
Whether this will persuade the judge remains to be seen. As it stands, the mood in the Ridgeway is tense.
Mrs McGuinness remains cheerful. Her calmness under pressure might be due in part to her composure as an ice skater
The residents’ barrister, Andrew Olins, a partner in IBB Law LLP, told the Mail that the McGuinnesses have in fact been asked to attend various parties in recent times, including ones to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee and Coronation.
But, says Mr Olins, ‘given that 82 per cent of the Ridgeway are against breaching the one-plot one-house policy, some of those would have strong feelings about what Mr and Mrs McGuinness want to do’.
Mrs McGuinness remains cheerful. Her calmness under pressure might be due in part to her composure as an ice skater, something she gave up while still at school — and long before she took up hot yoga.
She and her husband are currently feeling the heat without the help of a 40 degree studio.
What happens now is not in their gift, but one can’t help hoping that those invitations will start to come their way again.
Perhaps one day she will even be able to raise a glass at the wine society — and realise that bygones really can be bygones.
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