A few years ago I wanted a small extension to the house to create downstairs facilities for an elderly relative to stay. I carefully looked up the official help site and read the just expanded permitted development rights signed into law by Hazel Blears as the 2008 amendments - yes that’s right we have been here before, bizarrely the Labour Government significantly increased householder’s permitted development rights.
I was sure I was well within the permitted allowances but being a careful sort of chap decided to make sure and ask the council for a permitted development certificate. This is intended to be a simple certificate that confirms your intended extension abides by the permitted limitations – remember that if it doesn’t the council can come along after the fact and claim you misread the rules and you have to knock it down.
Now it should cost nothing and take a few minutes for a planner to confirm the situation but the council passed it all the way through their full planning process which took them 2 months to the day to make their decision known – 2 months being the absolute maximum time they are allowed under guidelines. They refused it because the architect had made a simple typo, something that could have been sorted in a trivial phone call. We changed the plans and asked again. Once more they took the maximum allowance of 2 months to refuse it again. This time citing reasons that were neither mentioned in the 2008 statute or the official help information. So I appealed. That took almost 6 months until an inspector came, greeted the local planning officer like an old friend and he turned it down.
Now you may say I’m an idiot, I must have misread the statutes and misunderstood the official help site on the web. No, nothing so simple! The local council didn’t like what I wanted to do, they are friends with the appeal officers, so they make stuff up. In my case it went (memory excepted) along lines something like this.
“Where was the original wall”, said the planner.
“It was, and still is, here” I said.
“No it isn’t” said the planners, “it has newer cement than there and is therefore not the original wall”
“Yes indeed” I replied, “30 years ago, when the house was renovated a part of that wall was unsafe, so a section was repaired. You will notice it uses the original bricks and is in exactly the original position.
“But then it’s not original” claims the planner, “only remaining original walls can be used for the measurements. All rights are lost if a wall is demolished.”
“Yes, I realise that in other circumstances”, said I. “ but here is the regulation and it specifies the position, so whether it’s standing, removed, rebuilt or off with the fairies, or simply a badly drafted statute makes no difference, this is the position of the original wall, circa 1948 or when the house was built, as specified for the measurement.”
“Ah but this is a planning matter”, said the planner.” You must realise that ordinary words do not mean what you think they mean but have special interpretations and definitions with regard to planning.”
“No” say’s I, “This is a government statute. It may specify planning matters but it is law for the country. It must by definition mean exactly what it says and is not open to specialised planning interpretations.
“OK then”, he says “You can go to court to fight our interpretation, or build it and we will take you to court and we’ll see who wins.”
By that time it was over 18 months since we had needed the extension, so I gave up because life’s too short. But the point is that a gift of freedom to make a small house improvement will do nothing to help anyone at all unless the representatives of the planning system – and they are the local planners – are behind it. The current ‘relaxation’ is rather like giving your child a birthday present then warning them that they can leave it wrapped but if they open it you will roll a die and might take it away and punish them. How typical of authority such traps and scams have become!
Coincidentally just as I go to publish this post I saw this one from Graeme Archer. He gets it too.