If it ain’t broke

The MP for Orpington’s private member’s bill to make unauthorised development without planning permission a criminal offence and to prohibit retrospective planning applications is due its second reading on 3 December. The bill no doubt has the support of residents in Kent who made representations on a recent appeal (DCS Number 400-032-938) against the refusal of planning permission for extensions to facilitate the change of use of a care home to eight flats.

The inspector observed that the development appeared to be largely complete. He recorded that the proposal was broadly similar to a development that had recently been granted planning permission, but explained that because some of the works carried out to the building departed from the details shown on the approved plans, planning permission was now sought for the development as built. 

The inspector acknowledged that the differences between the proposal and the approved scheme were numerous and varied, as several interested parties had pointed out. Nonetheless, he determined that the proposed development would be in keeping with the character and appearance of the host building and the local area and would not materially reduce the living conditions of neighbouring occupiers.

The inspector also acknowledged that interested parties were critical of the appellant for showing, in their view, ‘contempt’ and a ‘flagrant disregard’ for the planning system by failing to adhere to the approved scheme and then, in their eyes, expecting to gain a favourable retrospective decision. He pointed out, however, that the appellant was entitled to seek approval for the preferred development as much as anyone else. Moreover, he explained that the planning process includes a formal consultation stage within which comments may be made and these are taken into account by the decision-maker. Importantly, he further explained ‘a key principle of the planning system is that each proposal should be assessed on its own merits, whether or not it is (partly) retrospective.’

Whilst it might be very irritating to see development going ahead before the proper permission has been obtained it seems to us here on the DCP Blog that the system we already have in place is sensible and equitable for two reasons. Firstly, the denial of planning permission for unauthorised development nearly always entails a financial cost for the developer – let’s not criminalize them as well. Secondly, if retrospective planning applications are prohibited what will become of development which would have been approved?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Section 5.138 of DCP Online covers retrospective applications.