Millionaire neighbours' legal battle over who foots £2m legal bill

Millionaire neighbours who won eight-year battle to stop celebrity architect building ultra-modern ‘glowing glass box’ are now fighting each other over who has to pay ‘eyewatering’ £2m legal bill

  • London flat owners successfully fought to block an ultra modern development
  • They are now clashing after each faces a £430,000 charge for legal bills 

Millionaire neighbours who fought to prevent an ultra-modern development next to their Victorian villa are now at loggerheads over who foots the ‘eyewatering’ £2million legal bill.

The occupants of the building in Holland Park, west London, fought celebrity architect Sophie Hicks for over eight years, after she unveiled her plans next to their apartments in a converted Victorian villa in 2013.

Her design was for a cutting-edge underground house with an illuminated glass entrance at street level.

After the group won its case against Ms Hicks in 2021, the £2.7million legal bill was added to the service charge among the apartment owners – who now each face a fee of £430,000.

Investment banker Andrew Dell, 60, and his company director wife Jennifer, 59, clashed with fellow residents after refusing to pay the fee, arguing they had stopped supporting the fight with Ms Hicks in 2014.

The couple are now battling to avoid the bill at the Court of Appeal.

Architect Sophie Hicks (left) and her model daughter Olympia Campbell outside London’s High Court in 2021. She lost her case after a judge ruled neighbours could object to her building an ultra-modern house topped with a ‘glowing glass box’

The neighbours, led by psychologist Maria Letemendia (pictured), 74, secured victory in 2021 when Judge Mark Pelling found they could reasonably object to the ‘glowing glass box’ design entrance hall. But they were left with a £2.7million legal bill

Andrew Dell outside the Court of Appeal after hearing in dispute over service charges

Neighbours living in the Victorian townhouse next door won the legal battle against celebrity architect Sophie Hicks who wanted to build an ‘unconventional’ on a  plot of land adjacent to their listed property

This image shows the street view of the Victorian villa on the left, with the ‘glowing glass box’ on the right above a subterranean house, with two storeys below ground

The house on the wedge-shaped land will be split into three floors, pictured, with two of them built underground

Ms Hicks’s model daughters Edie (left) and Olympia (right) pictured at a party in 2017 in Northamptonshire

Ms Hicks (centre left) with her daughters Edie Campbell (left), Olympia Campbell (right) and ex-husband Roddy Campbell (centre right) at Moretti Fine Art in London in September 2013. The architect bought the land in 2011 for £880,000 and wants to build a family home

Ms Hicks had obtained council planning approval for her subterranean house in 2015, having bought the building plot in 2011

A previous tribunal ruled in Mr and Mrs Dell’s favour last year, but the building’s management company is appealing in a bid to get a ruling that Mr and Mrs Dell have been legitimately charged for the dispute.

Ms Hicks, who is mother to two model daughters, Edie and Olympia Campbell, obtained council planning approval for her subterranean house in 2015, having bought the building plot in 2011.

However, the clash with her neighbours-to-be had already started in 2012 and proceeded through a series of planning disputes and court cases over their right to object to and block her build plans.


The company holds the power to veto building on the adjoining land due to covenants included in the contract when the plot was sold off.

The neighbours, spearheaded by psychologist Maria Letemendia, 74, had argued: ‘We do not all want to live next door to the creative and interesting.’

They also relied on covenants restricting use of the land, which was once the garden of their Grade-II Listed house.

The neighbours, ultimately secured victory in 2021 when Judge Mark Pelling found they could reasonably object to the ‘glowing glass box’ design entrance hall, as well as the extension of the house beyond the back of their own properties.

However, the group was left facing more than £2m costs after Ms Hicks was ordered to pay only a fraction of their £2.7million bill.

The company which owns the freehold of their building, and whose directors are the flat owners, is now trying to get all of them to share the cost – whacking a record £430,411.50 onto the service charge for each.

However, despite losing the case, Ms Hicks – who could still build to a different design – was ordered to pay only a portion of the professional and legal fees the dispute had cost her neighbours.

The court heard the money spent on the dispute had been extraordinary, with the First-tier Tribunal calling the costs ‘vast’ and the Upper Tribunal describing the bills as ‘eyewatering.’

The company is now appealing against a decision of the Upper Tribunal, which ruled Mrs and Mrs Dell are not ‘contractually liable’ to pay the service charge demand – a ruling which itself was an appeal, the company having initially won at the First-tier Tribunal.

Arguing that they should be made to pay, the company’s barrister James Fieldsend said that too much attention had been given by the Upper Tribunal to the size of the bill, which was irrelevant to whether the Dells are contractually liable.

‘As has been laboriously repeated by Mr and Mrs Dell on numerous occasions, this case is thought to involve the single largest service charge claim in respect of an individual flat,’ he said.

Sophie Hicks is a former Tatler fashion editor and mother of models Edie (left) and Olympia Campbell (right)

A street view design of the unbuilt glass box property shows how the entrance hall would have been shaded by a tree

This image shows the glass box (left) and the layout of the home underground, with the Victorian villa on the right

But that did not matter, he claimed, and the Upper Tribunal judge had ‘erroneously considered the quantum of the costs’ when deciding whether the Dells are liable.

‘The fact that the clauses in question have resulted in unforeseen costs being claimed from the leaseholders, and even potentially ruinous costs, does not affect the principle of recoverability,’ he said.

Former fashion editor and esteemed British architect: The career of Sophie Hicks 

Sophie Hicks, 60, began a career in fashion at 17 – when she was hired as a guest editor for the first teenage issue of Harper’s & Queens. 

She remained in fashion for more than 10 years, during which time she acted as fashion editor for Tatler and British Vogue.

At 28, Hicks returned to education and studied to become an architect at the Architectural Association in London. 

She qualified as a chartered architect in 1994, and has since designed prominent buildings such as Paul Smith’s flagship store in London.

Hicks went on to design buildings for Yohji Yamamoto, Chloe and The Royal Academy of Arts.  

She was Vice President of the Architectural Association Council from 1997 to 1999.    

Last year, Hicks was awarded a RIBA London Award for a new build house in the Earls Court conservation area of central London.

Hicks has built a series of other contemporary homes across the capital, including in Regent Square. 

He continued: ‘The company was empowered, and in certain situations obliged, to take steps to protect the structure and amenity of the building, which was for the benefit of all lessees.

‘The service charge provisions should be interpreted in that light, such that the costs of taking those beneficial steps should be recoverable by the company through the service charge, subject to the statutory requirement of reasonableness.’

Faced with Ms Hicks’ plans, the company had taken expert advice and consulted the flat owners, who all supported the litigation, with the Dells only saying they wanted out after July 2014.

For the Dells, Mark Loveday said the couple had paid similar demands for fees, but that in July 2014 they informed the management company that they did not want to spend any more money on legal proceedings against Ms Hicks.

He argued that the Upper Tribunal judge’s reasoning had been ‘impeccable’ in deciding that the company could not force the Dells to pay the sum – which he described as the largest service charge ever levied against a single flat.

‘By January 2021, the management company had invoiced the lessees in the building a total of £2,763,521.02 in connection with the costs,’ he told the appeal judges.

‘The costs dwarfed the regular costs of maintaining the building.

‘For example, in 2019 it appears the company incurred legal and professional fees of £1,292,157, while spending £30,645 on the routine costs of insurance and maintenance of the building.’

He said ‘particularly clear words’ would have been required in the leases for the flats if service charges were to be legitimately demanded for such ‘unusual and onerous obligations.’

Disputes involving previous owners of the ‘much-litigated piece of land’ showed that future court cases were a possibility when the lease for the Dells’ flat was drawn up, he said.

‘The company accepted below that the parties would reasonably have had the possibility of the development of adjacent land in their contemplation and by extension also the possibility of dispute,’ he said.

‘This was not therefore an unforeseen potential head of cost…and the necessary clear words are simply not there to include this in the service charge expenditure.

‘The parties knew the land was controversial and could be expected to have made express provision for the cost of litigation in relation to it.

‘Otherwise, the inevitable conclusion is that they intended to fund any litigation costs in other ways.’

Following a day-long hearing at the Court of Appeal last week, judges Lord Justice Arnold, Lord Justice Phillips and Lady Justice Falk reserved their decision on the case until a later date.

Source: Read Full Article