CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Bren Cottage: Peek inside home next to Hampstead Heath which council says must come down

Exclusive: Artist breaks silence over planning battle at Fairground site

22 November, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

A WOMAN who built her own home at a paradise spot next to Hampstead Heath has broken her silence in her battle to stop it from being torn down.

In an exclusive interview with the New Journal, Jita Lukka said she had used recycled materials to do up the shack on land known as the South Fairground in the Vale of Health. The painter has been told by the council that her home was built illegally and must be removed, a verdict she is now appealing against in a case that is due to be reviewed by a planning inspector early next year.

An alliance of civic groups and the City of London, which manages the Heath, are supporting the Town Hall’s position. Ms Lukka has always turned down requests for comment until yesterday (Wednesday) when she allowed the New Journal to see behind the fences at Bren Cottage; she has named her home after her dog.

These are the first pictures showing how Ms Lukka is living.

“Over the years I have walked my dogs here,” said Ms Lukka, who had been living in Belsize Park previously. “It is a lovely spot. I’m not a property developer. I just have made somewhere peaceful to live.”

The view of the Heath from Bren Cottage
Ms Lukka says in September 2016 she discovered the former squatters on the site were being evicted and the plot would be sold off. Instead of doing what many people in the area feared – put in planning permission for a multi-million pound Heathside house – Ms Lukka said she simply fixed up what was there already. Now she seeks to prove that the previous occupants were there for more than four years and that the house she lives in is essentially the same structure.

If she can, Ms Lukka may be able to apply for a certificate of lawfulness – allowing her to stay. It’s a prospect that horrifies local conservationists who insist there has never been a permanent home on the land before.

In reply, Ms Lukka insists: “I have kept the structures and just used recycled materials to do them up. It is the same height and shape it always was.”

The site previously had caravans nestling under trees and a hand-built home hidden behind tall fences and undergrowth. One occupant, Robbie Litvai, had a sitting room, kitchen and music studio and had stayed there with the owners blessing since around 2005. He was featured in the New Journal two years ago after learning he would have to leave as the site went up for sale.

Ms Lukka borrowed funds from her brother to pay £700,000 for the site and said she began tidying up the existing plot, clearing more than 70 tonnes of rubbish. Ms Lukka, who came to live in the UK as a refugee from Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda in the 1970s, said: “I saw the site and didn’t think it would be worth much, so I met the owners and they asked me to make an offer.”

She claims nobody from the council or the City of London had visited before to check what Mr Litvai had built – an oversight that undermines their case, she adds. “There is no evidence that proves the house was not here and it was just a temporary structure,” said Ms Lukka.

But in a joint a statement by the Heath and Hampstead Society and Vale of Health Society, the site is described as “an extremely sensitive area”.

It added: “At all times, Mr Litvai lived in caravans, and according to him, what was constructed in about 2008 was a wooden box for use as a music space and in 2013 a painting studio was added.”

It went on: “The shanties built by Mr Litvai had no foundations and were constructed of flimsy material. They could not be regarded as buildings.” They added the work by Ms Lukka cannot be seen as “maintenance, improvement or other alteration” but is reconstruction – and therefore needed planning permission.

The appeal is set to be heard next February.

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