Dame Helen Mirren’s dreams of a tumbledown beachside retreat near her luxury estate in southern Italy have hit a stumbling block as police halted construction amid claims she breached building regulations.
The Academy Award-winning actress and Taylor Hackford, her husband and Hollywood director, bought the crumbling 79 square metre stone shack with spectacular views of the Adriatic in December 2017 with the dream of converting it into a seaside refuge.
But she appears to have fallen foul of local planners for the second time, with police accusing her of “disfiguring the natural beauty” of the surrounding area by adding a new restraining wall.
Construction has stopped on the property, located at Torre Nasparo, which is surrounded by national park in the southern region of Puglia. Prosecutors have opened an investigation.
“This has struck Dame Helen like a bolt from the blue, she never expected this,” Pietro Nuccio, her lawyer, told The Daily Telegraph. “She fell in love with this location because it was in ruins and she wanted to save it.”
The couple were planning to spend up to €300,000 (Dh1.2 million) to restore the house and use it as a seaside getaway. It is 16km from the estate the couple bought 12 years ago.
Provincial police are looking into allegations that include illegal construction, disfiguring the natural beauty of the area and carrying out renovation works without the appropriate permits, according to local reports.
They claim dry stone walls have been replaced by cement and the walls are higher than acceptable. “If cement has been used it will be taken off,” said Nuccio. “If laws have not been respected we will find a solution.”
Apart from the construction materials, builders appear to have exceeded the height limit on the walls built to reinforce the cliff terraces.
“The problem is that the walls should be no more than 6.5ft and two are 12ft,” Nuccio said.
“If there is a small violation it can be solved. There is no damage to the natural beauty.”
It is not the first time Mirren has clashed with planning authorities in Puglia. In 2012, she became embroiled in a dispute with Anna De Giovanni, her neighbour, after she and her husband sought permission to renovate their once abandoned farmhouse near Tiggiano in southern Puglia.
They were not accused of any wrongdoing, but were understood to have faced questioning. The argument was described by Mirren’s lawyer as “very petty” and a “complete waste of time”.
Nuccio said the actress, recognised around the world for her Oscar-winning role in The Queen, had restored her Puglia estate “stone by stone” using old techniques and natural materials. She had also planted 400 pomegranate trees and loved cultivating the land herself.
In August of last year, Mirren was lauded by the local community after she lent her support to a campaign to halt a deadly bacteria that was affecting hundreds thousands of olive trees.
At the time she was photographed with her hand on one of the region’s most ancient trees, named by locals La Regina or The Queen, which is believed to be up to 2,000 years old.