The planning system is meant to ensure effective land use in the public interest, but it all too often descends into circular repetition of official effort with no discernible results. In a case on point, the Court of Appeal questioned the cost to the public purse involved in an apparently endless planning dispute over a single dwelling constructed without authorisation in the Green Belt.
The case concerned a woman who had for almost 20 years been at odds with her local council over her entitlement to live on a tiny plot of Green Belt land she owned. After acquiring it, she at first lived in a horsebox before converting a field shelter into a log cabin, making it her home. All those operations had been performed without planning permission.
She had four times applied unsuccessfully for planning consent to erect or retain a dwelling on the land. Planning inspectors had dismissed her appeals, also on four occasions. Enforcement notices and even an injunction had been issued against her, yet she remained living in the cabin.
In rejecting her most recent appeal against a refusal of consent, an inspector found that the cabin’s visual impact on the openness of the Green Belt was limited and that it did not harm the rural character and appearance of the area. He expressed some sympathy for her, noting that her very modest income meant that moving elsewhere in the area was not a viable option.
He concluded, however, that the cabin was an inappropriate development in the Green Belt and that there were no very special circumstances justifying its retention. Although the woman ran a small horticultural business on the land, also using it to graze two horses, he rejected arguments that the cabin was used for a purpose ancillary to agriculture. His decision was later upheld by a judge.
In dismissing her appeal against that outcome, the Court ruled that the inspector’s reasons were beyond criticism. Given that the cabin was not linked to agriculture, it was not exempt from the full force of Green Belt restrictions. The question of whether it could be rendered acceptable by imposing a condition requiring that it only be occupied by an agricultural worker therefore did not arise.
The Court noted that the dispute in respect of the site had consumed years of official and legal attention at considerable public expense. The woman’s numerous planning applications and appeals had been duly considered on their merits, yet nothing of substance had been achieved. The local authority’s attempts at enforcement had neither been complied with nor enforced, and the planning position of the site remained as irregular as it had always been.