Victorian-era restrictions sink Chester boathouse development

A university's plans for a new boathouse on a stretch of the River Dee on the edge of Chester have been blocked by a High Court judge who ruled that Victorian-era restrictions on the use of the land for 'trade or business' were still enforceable.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

In 2014, Chester University university was granted planning permission to demolish a boathouse it owns on land at Sandy Lane in the city and replace it with a two-storey "community rowing and fitness facility".

But local man Dr Ronald Witter sought to block the proposal based on covenants dating back to 1896 which banned trade or business use of the land and restricted it to private use as "gardens or pleasure grounds".

Now, the university's plans will be staying on the drawing board after Judge Martin Rodger QC agreed with him.

The university said it desperately needed better facilities for its rowers and pointed to the "public interest" in building a new boathouse.

But the judge said the plans would involve "the carrying on of business" on the riverbank and that could not be allowed.

Although students might "derive pleasure" from the new boathouse, it could not be viewed as "a garden or pleasure ground".

The covenants were "far from obsolete", having effectively preserved "the peace and tranquility" of the riverbank for well over a century, the judge added.

The new boathouse would "dominate and transform" Dr Witter's garden, leaving much of it "in shadow".

Judge Rodger accepted that there was a "clearly a need" for the university to improve its rowing facilities and that its plans were "reasonable".

But he ruled that the covenants "remain enforceable" and are not "contrary to the public interest".

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