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Planning Permission: What Happens When You Find a House in a Haystack?

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What lurks behind? A House in A BarnThe Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (formerly plain old House of Lords) issued an important judgment this week against those who seek to benefit from the literal meaning of the law but not the spirit of the law.

The case centred on whether a Local Authority could take enforcement action against a Mr. Beesley who had disguised a dwelling house as a hay barn.

Mr. Beesley had been previously granted Planning Permission for a hay barn for the storage of hay and agricultural equipment.

But, instead, Mr. Beesley built a fully fitted-out dwelling house (albeit with no windows just roof lights and sun pipes to provide light) complete with living room, study, bedrooms, bathrooms, a gym and garage.

He moved in with his family and lived there for four years, all the while camouflaging the dwelling from the outside world with farming machinery.

In normal circumstances, you can apply to the Local Authority for what is known as a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development, and if there has been “a change of use from any building to use as a dwelling house, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of four years beginning with the date of the breach” 

A Certificate of Lawfulness grants immunity from enforcement action.

The Courts below had alternately said there was nothing the Local Authority could do and yes, the local Authority could take enforcement action.

Well, the Supreme Court took a very dim view of Mr. Beesley’s actions.

The Supreme Court decided that the Local Authority could still take enforcement action seeking to demolish the building.

The Supreme Court dealt with legal definitions in arriving at its decision, but it also noted that where something was inherently dishonest you could not seek an advantage. Simply, it would damage the Public’s confidence in Planning Law, if as one of the Judges put it:-

“on any possible view the whole scheme was in the highest degree dishonest and any law-abiding citizen would be not merely shocked by it but astonished to suppose that, once discovered, instead of being enforced against, it would be crowned with success.

Frankly the dishonesty involved in this case is so far removed from almost anything else that I have encountered in this area of the law that it appears to constitute a category all its own”

So in conclusion, even where it appeared that Mr.Beesley had come within the literal meaning of law, it was his dishonest conduct which took him outside the scope of the law.

So, if you are contemplating a change of use to your dwelling make sure you speak with your Conveyancing Solicitor, and avoid the fate of Mr.Beesley.