A COUPLE ordered to tear up their picturesque front garden by the council claim they have been “treated like criminals”.

Michael, 69 and Patricia Dunn, 74, of China Lane, Bulphan have been ordered to take down a small footbridge, remove a footpath and tear up ornamental plants in their front garden, as they allegedly breach strict planning rules.

And the Dunns are now at their wits-end, having carefully transformed the land - which they have owned for 20 years - into a garden paradise, costing thousands of pounds, over the last three years.

The couple laid the path, replaced a small wooden bridge crossing a ditch to access the land with a new, safer crossing for their young grandchildren and planted numerous shurbs and flowers.

But after “receiving a complaint”, the council ordered the garden to be torn up as it was an “unauthorised use of the land”.

Mr Dunn, a former casino inspector, said: “We bought the land as an extension to our garden and have always treated it as such. We decided to develop it and make it a bit nicer.

“We were probably naive in that we didn’t realise we had to apply for planning permission, but there’s an ethos in Bulphan of making and keeping your gardens nice. We struggle to see the arguments against it.

“It’s not exactly Kew Gardens, it’s just a nice country garden. It’s unbelievable. It’s been really stressful for us - we feel like we’ve been treated like criminals and singled out.”

The couple, who have lived in the property for 30 years, have spent thousands of pounds fighting the council over the issue.

The local authority served an enforcment notice in 2011 and the planning inspectorate recently backed its stance that the land has been changed, without permission, from agricultural to residential use.

The council has argued there was never a bridge crossing the ditch and linking the land - but Mr Dunn claims that since the cottages were built 200 years ago, that section of land has been linked with a bridge to his front garden.

The council claims the “curtilage of the property has been extended”.

Thurrock Gazette:

Picturesque - but the council claim the garden is in breach of strict planning rules.

A spokesman said: “In order to regularise the breaches of planning control an enforcement notice was served requiring the land to be returned to fen land.

“Given that the council’s attempts to regularise the breaches via negotiation have failed, it follows that prosecution proceedings ought to be considered.”