With the UK’s housing shortage
remaining a hot topic and delays with the planning system often cited as
the reason we’re behind on delivering enough new homes, you’d be
forgiven for thinking that developers given the green light to proceed
with construction would do so mindful of sticking to the rules.
Solicitor in our Town & Country Planning department Recent press
reports however, demonstrate that whether it’s a one-off dream property
or a larger development of multiple units, property developers in some
instances see the granting of planning permission as a necessary hurdle
to manoeuvre and once it’s been successfully negotiated, then they can
proceed however they wish.
In one recent case on the Suffolk / Essex border, a firm of builders
obtained permission to build six houses. After they had started building
nearby residents soon realised something was amiss as two of the new
properties appeared to loom large like a ship coming in to harbour.
Taking the case up with the local Council, it soon transpired that two
of the houses had not been built in accordance with the planning
permission. Firstly, the ground level of the site had been raised beyond
what was approved and this resulted in the finished floor levels of the
plots being raised and the properties being built taller than
anticipated. Secondly, it is said that one of the houses has been built
approximately 3 metres closer to the boundary of a neighbouring house
than was approved.
Retrospective planning permission was sought but the planning
committee of the local District Council unanimously rejected the
application on the basis that the two properties in question loom over
the neighbouring property in an unacceptable manner and encroach on its
privacy. The committee also felt that the outcome of the entire
development in its resultant form was at odds with the character of the
Conservation Area and would not have been approved had it been submitted
on that basis.
Of course, the developer can appeal the Council’s ruling but if any
appeal fails it may be forced to demolish the properties which
contravene the granted permission.
This case provides some important lessons for successfully navigating
the planning system, including that what is built should match what is
shown on the plans approved as part of the planning permission, and that
you should always make sure that the approved drawings are what the
builder is given.
As a developer, or even as a purchaser of a recently built home, it’s
worth remembering that a council is unlikely to demand demolition
unless it’s really necessary. Questions will be asked about whether the
proposal would have been approved if it had been submitted properly in
the first place – a simple mismatch between a set of drawings and a
completed property is unlikely in many instances to be terminal.
Secondly, the question is not how big the difference is between what was
built and what had been approved; it is more a case of how important
that difference is. In the Suffolk case, the properties being a bit
higher than intended AND being in a Conservation Area is significant.
Elsewhere this may not have been an issue.
Planning decisions often come down to questions of judgment and it is
advisable to have a team of experts on your side when problems arise.
The team at FBC Manby Bowdler is on hand to advise where problems arise
and it’s always better to seek that advice as soon as an issue like this
arises, rather than wait for attitudes to have become entrenched. It
is also often cheaper to take our advice at an early stage rather than
when formal enforcement action is being taken.