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Stick to building plans or face the consequences
03 Oct 2018

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.

Mark Turner, 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.

Meet Mark Turner