The widespread belief that an Englishman’s home is his castle can all too easily lead the unwary into breaching planning rules. That was certainly so in a case concerning a householder who found herself in serious trouble after splitting her home into two self-contained residential units without planning permission.
The woman had built a side-extension to her semi-detached urban home and was authorised to use it as a guest bedroom, with en suite bathroom and a play area. Kitchen facilities were, however, at some stage added and the extension, which had its own front door, was rented out to lodgers.
The local authority later refused retrospective planning permission and issued an enforcement notice, requiring that the property only be used as a single dwelling. In upholding the notice following a public inquiry, a government planning inspector rejected the woman’s plea that the unauthorised use was immune from enforcement action in that the extension had been constantly used separately from the rest of the house throughout the four years prior to service of the notice.
Challenging the inspector’s decision, the woman claimed that he had failed to give adequate reasons for a ruling that was undermined by procedural unfairness. Lawyers representing the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, however, argued that the inspector’s decision was inevitable. On the woman’s own evidence, there had been times during the relevant four-year period when the annex had been occupied as part of the house and not as a separate dwelling.
Rejecting the woman’s complaints, the High Court found that she had suffered no unfairness. The inspector had dealt properly with voluminous evidence that had been put before him late, in breach of procedural rules. Her appeal to the inspector may have stood a better chance of success had it been better prepared in advance, but that was not a factor that could properly be taken into account by the Court.
Benson v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anr. Case Number: CO/4430/2017