Owners of South Yorkshire’s Wentworth Woodhouse, the UK’s largest private stately home, are asking for more than £100m to cover repair bills for mining subsidence.
The Grade 1-listed building, six miles north of Sheffield, between Barnsley and Rotherham, is the former seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam.
It has a frontage some 70m longer than that of Buckingham Palace, covers an enormous area of more than 2.5 acres, and is set in extensive grounds.
The Fitzwilliam family owed much of its fortune to the coal under the land surrounding the house and the area is honeycombed with deep mine shafts.
Much of the estate was used for open-cast mining, which came right up to the edge of the main lawn, causing part of the building to sink, it is claimed by the new owners of the house, brothers, Marcus and Giles Newbold and third brother Paul, who died recently.
The brothers are seeking compensation ‘likely to be in excess of £100m’ from the Coal Authority, a public body, to enable them to repair the ‘extensive subsidence damage’ and relaunch the house as a 70-suite luxury hotel, spa and museum.
The brothers won the first round of their legal battle in February last year when Land Tribunal judge, George Bartlett QC, dismissed the authority’s contention that ‘damage notices’, filed in 2007 and 2009 stating an intention to claim compensation, were ‘invalid’.
Nicholas Baatz QC, for the Coal Authority, asked Appeal Court judges, Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice McFarlane and Sir Stanley Burnton, to overturn that decision and rule that the ‘nominal mistake’ in filling out the notices should dash the brothers’ hopes of a payout.
Mr Baatz argued the tribunal judge was wrong to reject the assertion the damage notices were not worth the paper they were written on, because they were issued in the name of Paul Newbold alone rather than all three brothers.
But Michael Barnes QC, for the Newbold brothers, said: “Despite the fact that only Paul Newbold was named as the claimant, the notices were still valid, because they were given by Paul Newbold acting as agent for all three brothers.”
Given the importance of the case to the future of Wentworth Woodhouse –and public funds – the Appeal Court judges are expected to reserve their decision on the authority’s appeal until a later date.