COAL Authority bosses will face a legal claim for more than £100m after the owners of one of Yorkshire’s most neglected stately homes won the first stage in a court battle for compensation.
The Newbold family, led by octogenarian architect Clifford Newbold, bought Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, a decade ago for £1.5m and have plans to bring the empty building back to life.
But in order to make the plan work, Mr Newbold and his sons Paul, Marcus and Giles, must prove mining work carried out both beneath and around the house have led to its current “dilapidated state”.
Yesterday in the High Court, the Coal Authority, which is responsible for investigating and paying out in subsidence claims, applied to have the case struck out over “invalid” paperwork.
But a judge found in favour of the Newbolds, paving the way for them to make their case and potentially win hundreds of millions of pounds to turn the house into a hotel, museum, tourist attraction and business centre.
The Grade-I listed stately home was built by the Earls Fitzwilliam in the 1700s.
It has the longest facade in Europe, is reputed to have 365 rooms and covers an enormous area of over 2.5 acres.
It is former seat of the Second Marquess of Rockingham, who was twice Prime Minister, and stands above one of Britain’s richest coal seams, which supplied the profits needed to keep the estate afloat.
The Newbold brothers now claim that the mineshafts which once provided the cash to run the house could be its undoing, with the building sinking in several places, and large cracks appearing in walls and ceilings.
Earlier this year, Giles Newbold gave the Yorkshire Post access to the stunning mansion and told how he and his family had already spent millions of pounds on restoring the areas where they currently live,
The High Court heard that the house was occupied by the military during the Second World War, and was used by Rotherham Council as a teacher training college.
It was later abandoned by the local authority and subsequently fell into disrepair until the Newbold family read about its plight in a newspaper and decided to launch their plans.
The court heard that the brothers are seeking compensation “likely to be in excess of £100m” from the Coal Authority, claiming mining works carried out in the area from the 19th Century until about 30 years ago have caused “extensive subsidence damage” over the past decade.
However, the authority is disputing the brothers’ claims and, at the Upper Tribunal, attempted to deliver a knock-out blow by arguing that “damage notices” issued against it in February 2007 and August 2009 were invalid.
Nicholas Baatz QC, for the Coal Authority, claimed the notices were not worth the paper they were written on because they were issued in the name of Paul Newbold alone, rather than by all three brothers who have been freehold owners of the stately home since 2005.
The barrister also claimed the notices failed to give “prescribed particulars” demanded by the strict terms of the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991.
However, ruling in favour of the Newbold brothers, tribunal judge, George Bartlett QC, said: “I conclude that the authority’s contention that the notices were invalid must fail...that is sufficient to dispose of the authority’s case”.
The Newbold’s case will now go ahead for a full hearing later this year, at which it will be up to the brothers to prove that the bill for “remedial works” needed to restore Wentworth Woodhouse to its former glory can be laid at the door of the Coal Authority.
Yesterday Giles Newbold said he and his family welcomed the court’s decision and added that they hoped it would lead to a brighter future for the house and its estate.
He added: “We are pleased that we are able to take our case further so that we can secure the regeneration and long term future of this magnificent part of the nation’s heritage.”