Man sells giant mancave built without planning 'to mystery Mexican man' — who council can't find

An overhead shot of the single-storey extension to Graham WIlden's home
A 71 year old man from Cinderford who went to prison for building an extension to his house claims he can no longer remove the leisure centre he built as he no longer owns it (Image credit: Google Earth)

A business man who built a giant extension to his house that was ordered to be removed claims he is no longer its owner after selling it to a mystery "Mexican gentleman" for £1.

Graham Wildin, 71, from Cinderford, Gloucestershire, built a leisure complex with a range of features such as a bowling alley, casino and squash court for him and his family.

However, he never gained planning permission for the structure and after refusing to pay to remove it, was sentenced to prison, whereupon his release he sold the complex claiming it was no longer his problem.

This has put the demolition and future of the extension in doubt.

What is in the 10,000sqft leisure complex?

The leisure complex, also known as the 'Wildens Sports Complex', was built in 2014 at the back of Mr Wildin's home.

The 10,000 sqft single-storey extension that covers part of his sloped garden includes many features such as a squash court, casino, indoor cinema, ten-pin bowling alley, gym and sports hall.

The building, which has been dubbed "a giant mancave" by media outlets, Mr Wildin said was to be for the "incidental enjoyment of the house" and for his two daughters and his son.

The front of Graham Wildin's home show a stone wall and gate

Graham Wildin built a large leisure complex at the back of his Cinderford home to be enjoyed by his three children (Image credit: Google Earth)

Section 191 application found the building to be unlawful

Mr Wildin originally thought the home qualified under permitted development rights and so never applied for planning permission for the huge complex.

The council stated the complex was clearly in breach of planning regulations and ordered it to be taken down. Mr Wildin appealed this decision claiming that as it was  "less than 2.5 metres above ground height" and did not "exceed 50% of the available garden area" around the house it should be allowed to stay.

A Section 191 application by Mr Wildin to see whether the of the building was lawful deemed the building was unlawful meaning his appeal was rejected. 

After the failed appeal the case dragged on until 2017 when he was given an enforcement notice to remove the structure, although this request was ignored forcing the matter to go to the High Court the next year.

Mr Wildin claimed that he would not be able to afford the estimated £720,000 in costs to remove the structure claiming it would make him "lose everything" he's worked for.

High Court Judge Milwyn Jarman rejected these pleas granting Forest of Dean District Council an injunction to force Mr Wildin to remove the structure as well as ordering him to pay £30,000 in costs to the council.

Jailed for refusing to take down the build

After being given two years to take down the building, planning officers who visited the site found work had not even begun to remove the complex.

This led to Mr Wildin being given a six-week suspended jail sentence in 2021, delays from the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the legal process as well.

Mr Wildin appealed this decision but this failed at the Court of Appeal with Lord Justice Edis rejecting the notion that he did not have enough money to remove it as he found it unlikely that Mr Wildin would build such an expensive building, that was always unlikely to gain planning permission, without having significant funds to spare.

He was given until March 2023 to remove the building or else he would face prison time. It was discovered that still no work had been carried out and he was handed a six-week prison sentence for contempt of court, to which he served half of.

Councillor Tim Gwilliam, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Planning said: “This complex and lengthy case was completely avoidable, and has caused unnecessary difficulties for the Council and the residents of Cinderford.“

“I want to state, in the strongest possible terms, that we will continue to pursue enforcement action against Mr Wildin to ensure that he complies with the order to decommission services at the leisure building. Our teams are working tirelessly to bring this situation to a successful conclusion.

“As the planning authority, it is our job to protect communities from unlawful development, where it impacts the lives and wellbeing of residents. Every year hundreds of people work with us to bring their planning ambitions to fruition lawfully. However, we will pursue those who do not adhere to the law."

'Mexican gentleman' sale adds further complexity

The case did not end there though as it was also claimed by Mr Wildin at the Court of Appeal that he sold the complex to a "Mexican gentleman" for £1.

At the appeal he provided land registry documents, which he claimed proved he was no longer the owner of the building and so he could not take any further action in regards to removing the building.

This was deemed not relevant to the trial for contempt as the registry documents showed the transfer had happened after the court order, but it has meant that the future of the building remains uncertain after Mr Wildin claimed the leisure complex was "no longer my problem" as he no longer owned it.

A Forest of Dean District Council spokesperson said: "As this is an ongoing Planning Enforcement case, we are unable to comment further at this time and will continue to work with the relevant authorities to bring this matter to a close.''

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.