A builder with grand plans to convert an old pizza takeout building into a three-story, seven-bedroom house into a “multiple occupation” dwelling — a British reference for a residential property sharing common areas designed for more than one tenant — instead erected a gargoyle effigy on the building’s roof to express his ire at a town councilman who kiboshed the idea.
As first reported by SWNS Media Group in London, the builder, Michael Thomas, 71, was irate after his plan to convert the pizza takeaway joint was rejected by Trowbridge Town Council leader Steward Palmen, who ultimately put an enforcement notice, akin to a building department inspector’s red tag, to halt the project.
Thomas decided to exact his revenge by erecting a stone gargoyle effigy of Palmen on the roof instead. The effigy — sporting half-moon glasses and sticking his tongue out — now adorns the side of the disputed property in County Wiltshire in Southern England, about 90 minutes by train from London.
Palmen, 61, for his part, told SWNS that he was "flattered" by the gargoyle, which appeared on the building last week.
“It's just been quite amusing,” Palmen said. “He just started constructing [the HMO] without any planning permission in 2020. He's taken it quite personally and believes the council has ‘dobbed’ him in; he seems to have a vendetta against [me], but I quite like a gargoyle and would love for it to stay.”
“I don’t have an issue with it, but there is a serious side to it; there’s a court date on the fact he hasn’t returned the building to what it was.”
Thomas found himself at the center of legal action from Wiltshire Council after he continued building work on the Newtown property after being issued a temporary stop notice on the project. Ignoring the initial stop order, the council issued the more significant “enforcement notice,” which superseded the temporary stop-work issuance. The affair has been ongoing for three years.
Taking a different tact, Thomas applied for planning permission, which Wiltshire Council refused in June 2022, saying it "detracts from the character and appearance of the area."
This past May, an inspector upheld the council's decision after Thomas launched yet another appeal. The builder retaliated against the council by attaching a banner around the property's scaffolding.
The banner reads: “Wiltshire council suppports and invests time and energy in green field developments and long developers outside and around Trowbridge at a profit while actively hindering small building developers trying to fill a need for accommodation for those who do not qualify for the more expensive out of town accommodation.”
The building is located in a conservation area, which means that, despite a rule change in 2015 relaxing rules for converting commercial and industrial properties into residential spaces, his property is not exempt from strict zoning regulations. Even with the relaxed rules, permission is still often needed, and regulations must be followed. The property must also meet specific size, access, and amenity standards.
In June, Thomas said he was even willing to go to prison over the dispute.
“They don’t follow the rules; they make them up as they go along,” Thomas said. “If council officers are not following the rules, why should I … I am going to carry on building against their order and allow them to take me to court.”
Thomas has been ordered to attend Swindon Magistrates' Court on October 27 to face a charge of failing to comply with the enforcement notice.
“I am not afraid of going to jail,” the resolute building owner said. “I’ve been jailed twice before, and I’m told that these days they have toilets and televisions, so I don’t think that it will be a hardship.”