Alan Overton is a retired Civil Servant
Applications for planning permission to develop small residential sites within cities and towns are frequently controversial. Those that involve building on existing back garden land are particularly so. They are controversial because they bring with them, for neighbours and those living in adjoining and adjacent properties, ongoing problems of overlooking, disturbance, noise and light pollution, and issues of access, parking and security, particularly where previously adequate side walls and fences suddenly become exposed to unrestricted public access and thus vulnerable to opportunistic thieves, burglars and intruders. There is much empirical evidence to support the reality of these problems.
So great have these become that many local planning authorities (LPA’s) have been obliged to introduce specific policies to restrict or prevent such developments, and back gardens have been removed from the designation as previously developed land. This exclusion remains extant in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) introduced last year.
Back gardens, however, remain vulnerable to predatory developers, who long ago realised that with application refusals open to appeal the real power of decision now rests with the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), and not with the LPA’s at all. Decisions made by LPAs and by elected Councillors in Planning Application Committee (PACs) are routinely treated with open contempt by some developers who submit repeated applications followed by appeals, sometimes for a decade or more until, finally, they are fortunate enough to find a PINS Inspector who will allow the appeal and to grant permission despite concerted and united local opposition stretching back over many years. Inspectors, as a matter of deliberate policy, are selected who do not have any significant connection with the area in which they work or with any of the parties concerned, ostensibly for reasons of impartiality, but they are, in consequence, fundamentally ignorant of the local conditions, issues and views that are the reason for refusal in the first place.