Edward Burton says counting on councils' laissez-faire attitude to planning might cost you dearly, especially if you're targeting a historic pub
There is sometimes a perception that local authorities are not particularly engaged in planning matters and that in the event that a breach were to be discovered, the penalty would not be sufficiently severe to be a real issue for a developer or an owner.
However, this could not be further from the truth and there has been one recent reported case which highlights the importance of complying with planning law and potential costs of a failure to do so.
The Carlton Tavern was a historic pub in Maida Vale which was in the process of being considered for listing. The tavern was subject to a planning application for conversion into flats which was refused. It has been reported that that earlier this month the developer nonetheless flattened the building without having obtained the required permissions.
The applicable local planning authority has taken the unprecedented step of issuing an enforcement notice which would require the complete reinstatement of the building brick by brick.
This is an extreme example and there are many far less draconian penalties which would more commonly be used by planning authorities. However, in connection with the demolition, Westminster City Council's planning director John Walker was quoted by the BBC as saying, 'The council will not tolerate any flagrant disregard of the planning system.'
This serves as a useful reminder that councils have wide powers to enforce against breaches of planning law and that these powers are routinely used by planning authorities to remedy breaches of planning law.
Complying with planning law is often one of the most complex and time-consuming parts of any development scheme. Even once permission has been granted, the vast majority of planning schemes need to be strictly implemented in accordance with approved plans and architects and contractors must work closely to ensure that what is actually built accords with what has been permitted.
Many minor breaches of planning permission never become an issue. However, even minor breaches may be troublesome on a sale as the well-advised purchaser's professional team should be conducting thorough due diligence to determine whether there are any breaches of the planning permissions applicable to the property.
It is always worth a purchaser considering that while they may be willing to take a view on a planning breach, depending on how severe the breach is, a purchaser with less appetite for risk or a bank providing finance may not be able to accept the risk, which could kill a sale.
Whether a building is being flattened or seemingly minor alterations are being conducted, it is always worth seeking advice from a professional planner as the consequences of failing to comply with planning law could be severe. The worst case scenario for any property owner would be to pay for an extensive scheme of alteration and then pay again to put the building back as it was before, as the new owners of the Carlton Tavern are discovering to their cost.
Edward Burton specialises in advising on prime residential property at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP