Guardian angels

In determining an enforcement appeal relating to a former pub in east London the inspector ruled on the status in planning of property guardians (DCS Number 200-010-647).

The inspector recorded that the use of property guardians is a relatively new but popular means of providing security for empty buildings that would otherwise be vulnerable to squatters. The property guardians must live in the building as they find it without making any substantial changes and provide on-site security. In return they pay a below-market rent to the security company. The arrangement is intended to be a temporary solution until a viable use is found for the building.

The inspector remarked that there appeared to be no advice or regulations concerning the planning matters that might arise. He identified the problem in the appeal before him as being that although the appellants had no desire or intention to claim or suggest that the installation of the property guardians had created a material change of use to residential, the council was concerned that this was exactly what had happened. 

The appellant argued that the occupation by property guardians was only temporary and involved no substantive works to the building. The inspector reasoned, however, that the fact that there had been no substantive works was of little relevance as it was the use that was important. As to its temporary nature, there was no guarantee of how long that would be. If it proved difficult to rent out the pub then it was possible the property guardians could remain in place. After four years an LDC for a material change of use could be applied for and such an application would be difficult to resist. He concluded that a material change of use to a residential use had taken place.

Section 10.3 of DCP Online covers the residential conversion of commercial buildings.