Local knowledge

An appellant seeking to establish that the unfettered residential occupancy of a barn conversion in the Lake District would be lawful was disappointed when an inspector decided that the term ‘locality’ in a restrictive condition was precise and enforceable (DCS Number 400-020-182).

Planning permission for the conversion was subject to a condition that “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed or last employed in the locality, in agriculture as defined in Section 290(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1971, or in forestry, (including any dependants of such a person residing with him) or a widow or widower of such person.”

Firstly, the inspector noted that it was common ground that, because of the comma after the word ‘locality’, the condition allowed occupancy by a person solely or mainly employed or last employed in the locality, whether that employment was in agriculture or forestry or for other purposes altogether. Secondly, the inspector discussed the meaning of ‘locality’, noting the appellant’s argument that the use of the word was so imprecise as to make the condition unenforceable. To this end he reviewed relevant case law.

In Fawcett Properties Limited v Buckingham County Council (1960), the judge held that “a planning condition is only void for uncertainty if it can be given no meaning or no sensible or ascertainable meaning, and not merely because it is ambiguous or leads to absurd results.” The use of the word ‘locally’ in an occupancy condition was considered in the case of Alderson v SSE and Another (1984). In this case a judge said that “… the word “locally” has a perfectly intelligible meaning, although some doubtful cases might arise. If a doubtful case arises then it will be for the Court to say whether or not planning permission has been broken.” In the same case, another of the judges noted that the term “had been in wide use since the late 1960s at any rate, and so far as we are aware does not appear to have given rise to any difficulty.” The inspector held that the term ‘locally’ was not materially different in the present context from the words ‘in the locality’, which appeared in the condition in question and which appeared in Circular 24/73 and subsequent circulars up to Circular 11/95. In addition, the inspector recorded that in a large number of extracts from appeal decisions submitted by the council, it appeared that there had been little difficulty in interpreting ‘locality’ in the context of occupancy conditions and the facts of individual cases.

Similarly, the inspector saw no such difficulty in the present case. There was no requirement for the occupier to be employed on the appeal site, he ruled. He or she could be employed some distance away but not so far away as to invalidate one of the purposes of the condition, which was to preserve a stock of dwellings for the use of the local population. He regarded this as sufficiently precise and enforceable to comply with the relevant tests for conditions both at the time the condition was imposed and at the present time.

There is further information concerning local occupancy conditions at sections 10.3411 and 9.1411 of DCP Online.