In upholding an enforcement notice directed at the conversion of a garage in Essex to a one-bedroom bungalow (DCS Number 400-012-281) an inspector has rejected the appellant’s argument that the alleged breach had not occurred because the building had not actually been occupied for residential purposes.
The inspector recorded that case law has established that it is possible for such a change of use to have commenced prior to actual occupation. He cited Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Beesley  in which Lord Mance concluded that “Too much stress, has I think, been placed on the need for ‘actual use’…It is more appropriate to look at the matter in the round and to ask what use the building has or of what use it is”. The inspector explained that it is a matter of fact and degree in conversion cases as to when the change of use occurs, and it is incorrect to simply regard the commencement of actual residential use after the conversion as giving rise to the change of use.
In the case before him there had been an original single garage and an application had been submitted for another single garage to join on to it, purportedly for the storage of the appellant’s vehicles. However, the works undertaken soon made it apparent that what was being created was a new dwelling. On the inspector’s site visit he saw that the building, although unoccupied, had been set out as a one-bedroom bungalow, with windows to the front rather than garage doors, with a parking area to one side of the building, and a small amenity area beyond that. It was clear that the breach of planning control alleged had occurred as a matter of fact, he concluded.
This line of reasoning might be welcomed by enforcement officers, since it is nearly always easier to record physical works than to monitor human behaviour.
The following DCP chapter is relevant: 4.32