A ludicrous situation

When a planning inspector finds himself explaining that “We are forced into this somewhat ludicrous situation by the wording of the various Orders and Planning Acts ….” we must be in a serious mess. However, this situation arose in an appeal against an enforcement notice directed at a barn conversion on a farm in Worcestershire (DCS Number 200-007-575). The sequence of events leading to the appeal is this:

In 2014 the owner of the farm applied for prior approval to convert the barn to a dwelling. There was some dispute as to whether this was granted or the council failed to issue a decision, but in any event it was not disputed that prior approval was obtained. Before works began the farm was put on the market and sold at auction to the appellant with prior approval for a dwelling. The new owner then made two further prior approval applications in 2015 and 2016. These were refused by the council as they did not consider the land was in agricultural use on 20 March 2013 as required by Q.1(a)(i) of Part 3 of the GPDO. Believing he still had a valid prior approval from 2014 the new owner began work on the conversion as one of the conditions attached to the permission was that works must begin within three years of the grant of prior approval.

Having reviewed the evidence the inspector was not convinced that the agricultural use had ceased, as claimed by the council. He therefore concluded that the land was in agricultural use on 20 March 2013 so the prior approval was for permitted development. Having established the 2014 prior approval was granted by default and was for permitted development, the next question, he reasoned, was whether it was ever implemented. Works had certainly started within the three-year period but, as the council pointed out, the resulting building was quite different from that shown in the plans provided with the 2014 prior approval. The overall design had changed from a cottagey to a contemporary feel. The external appearance of the building was materially different from that shown on the plans, the inspector ruled, and he therefore concluded that it had not been converted in accordance with the 2014 prior approval application. It was common ground that the time limit for that application had expired and therefore the converted barn was unauthorised.

However…..it seemed to the inspector that while the works to convert the barn were unlawful, those works closely followed the applications made in 2015 and 2016. Those applications had been refused by the council who had mistakenly believed the land was not being used agriculturally at the required time, and neither refusal had been appealed. Had either of those applications been granted, as it seemed they should have been, the inspector reasoned, then the barn conversion would have been lawful.

Summing up the current situation, the inspector explained that if the appellant carried out the requirements of the enforcement notice to turn the dwelling back into a barn he would then be entitled to make another prior approval application under Class Q of the 2015 GPDO, which the council would not be able to refuse. He remarked that they were forced into this somewhat ludicrous situation by the wording of the various Orders and Planning Acts and, had there been a ground (a) appeal (a deemed planning application) he would have had no hesitation in allowing it. Because there was no ground (a), however, he found that the only way out of the impasse was for the appellant to make a s78 planning application showing the barn as converted. He extended the compliance period to twelve months in order to enable a planning application to be made and determined.

Ludicrous: absurd, ridiculous, farcical, laughable, risible, preposterous, foolish, idiotic, stupid, inane, silly, asinine, nonsensical.

Changes of use under Part 3 of the GPDO are covered at section 4.3423 of DCP Online.