An artist is at war in court with his millionaire inventor neighbour who he claims stole half of his front garden whilst he was abroad.
William Savage says Richard Bankart, his neighbour in the basement, ‘dug out’ part of the garden at the front of his flat in Stockwell, South West London.
Banker turned multimedia artist Mr Savage, 45, claims eco-tech expert Mr Bankart, 59, then built a sunken patio on it while he was away living and studying in Paris.
William Savage (left) says Richard Bankart (right), his neighbour in the basement, ‘dug out’ part of the garden at the front of his flat in Stockwell, South West London
Mr Savage accuses Mr Bankart, the boss of green energy technology firm Solar Skin, of carrying out a ‘high-handed land grab’ while his back was turned.
Mr Savage owns a flat covering the ground and first floor, as well as the front garden, while Mr Bankart owns the £1million basement flat below and the property freehold.
The pair have been battling over the patio since 2003 and the artist’s barrister Lina Mattson told a court that their ‘relationship has gone from bad to worse since’.
The artist is now asking a judge to grant an injunction barring Mr Bankart from ‘his continued trespass and use of his front garden’ – or up to £60,000 in compensation.
The work had allowed Mr Bankart to increase the value of his property by nearly £50,000 by brightening up his formerly ‘very dark and dingy’ living room, she says.
Mr Savage owns a flat covering the ground and first floor, and the front garden, while Mr Bankart owns the basement flat below. The red grid shows the previous depth of the patio
Before and after: These planning document show how the patio has been sunken further
But Mr Bankart is hotly disputing his neighbour’s claims, with the case now being contested at Central London County Court
He insists that the lightwell at the heart of the dispute is a ‘common part’ of the building and that he had an ‘enforceable agreement’ made with the previous owner of Mr Savage’s flat that he could extend it.
‘Moreover, he states that he has not acted wrongly, as Mr Savage has been consulted on, and consented to, all of the works to the property,’ his barrister Michael Walsh told the court.
The row between the pair began in 2003, the artist’s barrister said, two years after Mr Savage bought his apartment in the elegant Victorian villa.
She claimed the renewable energy guru began trespassing on Mr Savage’s garden while he was briefly living away in Paris, excavating the original ‘narrow lightwell’ outside the basement flat to create a larger ‘sunken terrace’ which took up 50 per cent of Mr Savage’s garden.
And to cap it off, Mr Bankart then sent his neighbour a bill claiming £3,533 for the works done, which he refused to pay, she told Judge Nicholas Parfitt.
Mr Bankart then successfully claimed the money from Mr Savage’s mortgage providers, leaving the artist facing a long struggle to get the money back from his building society after complaining to the financial ombudsman, she said.
The neighbours then had an ‘acrimonious’ clash over service charges in a landlord and tenant tribunal in 2009 and, in 2016, the artist instructed solicitors to ‘demand reinstatement of the original lightwell or compensation’ from Mr Bankart.
But in 2017, Mr Bankart launched a fresh phase of building works, the court heard, making his patio two-tiered and deeper so he could install French windows, she told the judge.
In February 2018, Mr Savage says he was told by another neighbour that ‘his garden was being dug out.’
The pair have been battling over the patio at the property in Stockwell (above) since 2003
The artist wrote to Mr Bankart asking: ‘What are you doing to my garden?’ and pointing out that he had been seeking restoration of the original lightwell ‘for some time.’
‘In other words, the patio should be removed and the extent of the soil/planted area extended towards the house…Mr Bankart ignored this and continued his works,’ the barrister said.
Despite further protests, Mr Bankart ‘ignored all of his objections and continued to trespass upon Mr Savage’s garden,’ said Ms Mattson.
She said the new phase of works had involved building a new sunken terrace – ‘which is the same footprint as the first new sunken terrace save for being substantially deeper to allow Mr Bankart to install a French door as part of his basement flat.’
Mr Savage’s case against his neighbour includes a claim for ‘aggravated damages’ for alleged trespass over the years.
How the property looked in February 2018 when building works were being carried out
His barrister branded Mr Bankart’s intrusions ‘high-handed and insolent’, and added: ‘He has at all times known that Mr Savage objects to his land grab.
‘He has nevertheless proceeded to (have built) the new sunken terrace and made it deeper, notwithstanding Mr Savage’s repeated objections.
‘This is a case where Mr Bankart has for a long time got away with his land-grab of half of Mr Savage’s garden. The court should not condone this conduct.’
But Mr Bankart’s legal team say he made an ‘enforceable agreement’ with the previous owner of Mr Savage’s flat concerning the expansion of the lightwell, which was ‘part of the overall reconfiguration of the garden and relocation of the bin store to a more convenient location.’
And he claims Mr Savage clearly accepted that works would be carried out to the garden and lightwell when he was negotiating the purchase of his flat in 2001.
The patio is pictured above in Stockwell in 2008, before the building works were carried out
The 2018 works programme simply ‘deepened’ the lightwell, but it was not enlarged beyond its 2003 footprint, said Mr Walsh.
‘The area of land in dispute has never been part of the demise owned by Mr Savage under the terms of his lease – following the conclusion of the agreement with his predecessor in title, which he had full knowledge of when he purchased the flat,’ he said.
All trespass claims were denied on Mr Bankart’s behalf, and his barrister said Mr Bankart is in fact counter-suing for his neighbour ‘trespassing’ by storing some of his possessions in the attic of the property.
On this count Ms Mattson said Mr Savage ‘held his hands up to storing a few items in the attic over the years,’ conceding that he should pay Mr Bankart £100 in ‘nominal damages’. The judge will give his ruling on the case at a later date.