Bedlam Bridge, March, and 10 years after John Gawthorp’s ‘stable’ home was removed, Darren believes he’s found a new use for the land

28th March 2017

Ten years after an enforcement team set fire to John Gawthorp’s illegal ‘stable home’ at Bedlam Bridge, March, the site has acquired new owners who this time want to turn it into an aquaponics centre.

Darren Cunningham believes aquaponics – which uses the waste from farmed fish to grow plants – could hold the key to his future earnings.

But Mr Cunningham – anxious to hand out flyers about his enterprise to passers by- has already come under the scrutiny of council planning officers who want to know his future plans for the Upwell Road site.

“I only bought it recently – what we’re doing is all on the flyer,” he said.

But in an unusual interview he later admitted “we haven’t got a plan- and we are not going to make a living” as he explained he might also use the site for anglers wanting to camp out and fish the nearby waterways.

He said Fenland Council officers had been on the phone “harassing us and telling us to submit plans but we haven’t got any”.

Mr Cunningham said he and a friend were “neither pioneers nor rebels since we don’t exist. We are strawmen – legal fiction that means we don’t exist.”

Suggesting I looked up the definition of ‘strawmen’ he offered a view of life of living “not in a democracy but a dictatorship” and arguing that ownership of the land was fragile since he couldn’t do what he wanted with it.

“You don’t have rights, no legal rights so how can we plan anything when we don’t exist,” he said.

“The Crown owns this land – that doesn’t necessarily mean you own it because you can’t do what you like with it,” he said.

Would he be stating long?

“Who knows we might buy another piece of sale – or someone could buy this. £1 million perhaps?” he said.

Mr Cunningham said he was certain of one thing and that was the authorities didn’t want him there “but all we want is to be left alone. They don’t like us.”

Mr Gawthorp was always adamant he was given verbal planning permission in November 2005 by planning officers through staff at the council’s one-stop shop in Chatteris but admitted to Judge Farquhar – during a subsequent hearing –that he never received this permission in writing.

He told the court he intended to build some poly tunnels and become a market gardener, and that he was “not that naïve” to sell his home in Chatteris for £80,000 before moving to Bedlam Bridge and setting up home.

When the judge asked whether Mr Gawthorp understood “the logic” of having written permission, he said: “I adhered to what they (the staff) said in the shop and what the planning department said the same day – they told me what I can and can’t do.”