Eric Pickles has said existing powers on the ‘Beds with Sheds’ issue are ‘more than adequate’ and said one council who he would not name (though he was referring to Bristol) had let the issue get out of hand.
But the problem is rapidly spreading outside the area of Ealing west through to Slough where it had become endemic.
Rather than existing powers being more than adequate it is an enforcement nightmare. A good test is whether or not it is easy to tell whether a breach has occurred, here you cant. Why?
- You can build under PD up to an incredible 50% of a garden area – back garden monsters.
- The rules on ancillary accommodation and use for sleeping are vague. And made much worse by the 2008 reforms does ‘a purpose incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house’ include sleeping accommodation and kitchens? The appeals cases here are all over the place, there is no consistent pattern. Some say its ok to have rooms for guest but not permanent self contained accommodation. Some say its ok to have toilets and kitchens others not. Working for one rich client who wanted to max out the potential of his many homes I had to find out which local authorities kept a close eye and this and those which didn;t, but it didnt really matter as you took pot luck on appeal. Hence it is very difficult to prove that accommodation is not ‘incidental’ especially when the occupants cant speak English and the owner claims they are all his cousins.
- You cant use PCNs as a fishing expedition, there is caselaw on this, there has to be a prima faci case. If an owner claims it is incidental then there is little you can do, a neighbours complaint is not enough. You cant even use powers of entry if on oath the owner says there has been no breach. Article 8 of the Human Rights convention is relevant here on privacy of family life (see the Scottish RTPI Handbook).
- You cant tell when a breach has occurred, the four year rule again. The Localism Act will help here on ‘concealed’ breachs, but as it is not retrospective this will have no effect for four years.
So an action plan:
- Commence the powers on the statute book from the 1984 Building Act to extend the four year rule to an across the board 10.
- Replace the 50% rule with a 40 sqm rule – the same as the building regs, with some limited exceptions
- Replace the ‘incidental’ rule with one which restricts outbuildings to those ‘ordinarily used for ancillary purposes in a garden or within a dwelling curtilage, but excluding sleeping and living accommodation (including kitchens and/or bathrooms) which would enable buildings to be used as self contained living accommodation.
- To reduce bureaucracy introduce a prior notification rule for ancillary buildings between 40 sqm to 70 sqm where the applicant would submit a commitment that a building would not be self contained accommodation and then if there were no objection after 28 days they could go ahead.
- Clarify the law so that PCNs and right of entry can be used without fear if there is complaint stating evidence.
- Introduce minimum room size standards for new and converted dwellings and introduce powers under the housing acts to enforce it, including charging landowners for replacement emergency accommodation of those displaced.
- Where a property is being used for living accommodation and an owner cant prove when it commenced make them liable for council tax back to the year the building was constructed.