The fight to keep Vale of Health pond home

Town Hall and conservation groups want woman’s property to be torn down

Thursday, 22nd August 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Jita Lukka Bren Cottage

WAS it nothing more than a hand-built shack providing limited creature com- forts – or a much-loved home in a grandstand position overlooking the Vale of Health pond on Hampstead Heath?

That is the question planning inspector John Murray has been pondering this week at a public inquiry over a home constructed on land on the fringes of the Heath.

Camden Council have told its owner, Jita Lukka, who paid £700,000 for the land in 2017, that the “improvements” she has made to buildings on the land were done without permission and must be demolished.

She argues that she simply cleared away rubbish, cut back overgrown trees and repaired structures built there by a squatter called Robbie Litvai in 2005.

Ms Lukka has told the planning inquiry she used recycled materials and made good what was already a building being used for a home.

She says Mr Litvai had been living there since 2005 and she first became interested in the land in 2016 when she heard the squatters living there were going to be asked to move.

Jita’s Heath home overlooks the Vale of Health pond

She hopes to prove to the planning inspector the shack was lived in and had been on the site for more than four years.

However, an alliance of civic groups, including the Heath and Hampstead Society and the Vale of Health Society, have joined with Heath man- agers the City of London and Camden Council in a bid to have Ms Lukka’s home declared illegal – and have her forced to tear it down.

On Tuesday, Town Hall QC Morag Ellis asked Ms Lukka to explain why she had sent the planning inspector a signed statement by Mr Litvai that said the construction he had built was his home.

He subsequently with- drew his declaration and told Ms Lukka she did not have his permission to use it – but it was submitted as evidence.

Ms Lukka told the hearing: “It was part of my case, I did not consider it to be a problem.”

She added that she had bought the land on the basis of the statutory declaration made by Mr Litvai that he was living there and the building had services and counted as a dwelling.

She added: “He was a very willing and very helpful party at the time. I did not pay him anything to sign the statement, but I did help him move to Wales.”

Ms Ellis asked Ms Lukka why she did not look into whether the land was allowed to have a house on it and whether Mr Litvai’s shack counted as one.

She added: “Before committing £700,000 on a piece of property, why didn’t you seek the advice of the local authority to see what status the land was?”

Ms Lukka replied: “I didn’t see any reason to.”

Ms Ellis also quoted an interview Mr Litvai gave to the New Journal when he was facing eviction, in which he described his living conditions and how he washed and cooked.

Lawyer David Altaras, representing the Heath and Hampstead Society and the Vale of Health Society, accused Ms Lukka of impeding Town Hall officers having access to the site to look at what was there already and what she planned to do.

He also said she has put up a heavy-duty security defence to cover up the extent of building work on the land – allegations Ms Lukka strongly denies.

Planning inspector Mr Murray is expected to deliver a verdict on whether the building is lawful in the autumn.

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