Smallholders in Devon have been allowed to keep living in a home that they had converted from a stable block without obtaining planning permission. They have also been allowed to keep a static caravan that they had been renting out to tenants after the council’s enforcement efforts were defeated on appeal.
The council’s enforcement action
At a public inquiry (where advocacy was provided by Duncan Tilney, from our Planning team) the Inspector heard that the facilities in the converted stables were quite basic. Having considered the other aspects (kitchen, bedroom, living space) he decided that even though the building only had a composting toilet, and had not yet been connected to a septic tank, that “inconvenience” wasn’t enough to mean that it wasn’t a dwelling.
The council had therefore delayed too long before taking enforcement action and so the owners were able to keep their house.
In the same appeal, the Inspector allowed them to retain a static caravan that they had been letting out to a series of tenants. The council had argued that there had been breaks in that occupation; again, that wasn’t accepted by the Inspector and time had therefore run out for the council to stop that use from continuing.
Permitted development rights and the Planning Inspector
Changing an agricultural building to a house (and similarly changing a field to a caravan site) is an act of development requiring planning permission. There are what are called permitted development rights for certain changes of this sort but none applied in these circumstances.
No applications had been made to the council for these changes and the council might have decided to overlook the works. Instead, the council took enforcement action requiring the uses to stop and the land to be put back to how it had been before; that is a power that councils have as planning authorities. When somebody is served with an enforcement notice there is a right of appeal, to effectively have that decision reviewed by an independent person – a Planning Inspector.
Although many such cases will turn on their individual facts there are some broad points of interest:
- A succession (even dozens) of separate residential occupiers can be sufficient to establish the long-term continuous use required to establish a case for immunity from enforcement.
- Inspectors are willing to accept that the pursuit of less conventional lifestyles is legitimate and that can be reflected in the acceptance of living standards (facilities) different from that which most people would consider to be ‘standard’ (in this case the dwelling only having a composting toilet).
Just because a council decides to take enforcement action does not necessarily mean that an owner or occupier will have to stop what they are doing. There is a right of appeal and consideration should be given to whether such an appeal has a prospect of success.
The timescale for enforcement appeals is always very short (normally 28 days). Appeals that are made late will not be considered and so it is important to seek professional advice sooner rather than later. Thereafter, the effect of the notice will normally be put into abeyance pending the outcome of any appeal.
Once an enforcement notice comes into effect (whether because it wasn’t appealed or any appeal failed) the requirements of it are mandatory; any failure to do what is then required by the notice becomes a criminal offence. If there is a prosecution, it is not possible to defend actions/inaction on any point that ought to have been put to an Inspector in an appeal against the notice.
Alongside an enforcement notice, a council may (in certain circumstances) also serve a Stop Notice. If that is the case, the Stop Notice is absolute and comes into effect immediately, regardless of any appeal against the associated enforcement notice.
It is important, therefore, to understand precisely what notices have been served, who those notices have been served on, what actions are required, what the options are to appeal or challenge the notices and the implications of any decisions that may be taken
Here we acted on behalf of the Land Owner of the converted farm stables.