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Mr. Turner: Let me give the example in Yarmouth. I referred in a previous debate to the River Yar: that was, of course, the East Yar. Yarmouth is at the mouth of the West Yar. There are only three main rivers in my constituency, and two of them are called Yar.
The example in Yarmouth was of a house being built on a site that had planning permissionindeed, it was supposedly being built on the footprint of an earlier bungalow. Because the applicants furnished the committee with somewhat misleading drawings, it believed that the house was going to be of a certain height and that the ridge height would be the same as that of the adjoining houses. Eventually it was discovered that the ridge height was greater than that of the adjoining houses, and notwithstanding the fact that the height was much more generous than the committee would have liked to pass, the applicant went on to build something considerably higher than that. I hope that my local authority will take enforcement action in the same way as the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) has suggested to his local authority. I certainly hope that I will not end up with a yellow face or a yellow tie.
I want to draw one point to the Minister's attention. My hon. Friend referred to a place by the River Yar. In that case, the person got planning permission but did not build according to the plans. I note that my hon. Friend tabled a new clause 6, which was not selectedI do not quarrel with that at all. However, it seems to me that when we are dealing with enforcement matters, we should consider not only those edifices that appear without any planning permission but buildings for which permission has been given but which are not built in accordance with the plans, usually because the wrong measurements have been given on the plans accompanying the application. In my view, that is an equally serious situation.
Mr. Hayes: I suggest to my hon. Friend that that is not an occasional aberration. There are areasI shall not say which exactlywhere that is continually an issue. Developers will deliberately and systematically use that approach to get what they want, and the problem needs to be dealt with on that basis.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I take that point absolutely. The sad thing, from my point of view as a professional person, is that if the plans are prepared by a professional person, that professional person has some responsibility in the matter.
Richard Younger-Ross: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has the same experience as me, but we have shared a profession, as I have worked in architectural industries for most of my life. In one case in the London borough of Merton, a client deliberately and knowingly made an extension far larger than the plans that I had submitted. When I spoke to the local authority to point that out, it was not interested, although it was a deliberate breach of the planning consent given.
Sir Sydney Chapman: That is a fair point, and I eagerly support the hon. Gentleman's view that it is not necessarily the professional who has made a mistake but the client not carrying out the plans drawn up by the professional. Sadly, there have also been cases in which the measurements on the plan have been inaccurate. We discussed that at length in Committee, so I need not continue the discussion now. It is a serious and important matter, however, and it is not just about building without any planning permission but building, getting permission, and not carrying out the building in accordance with the permission given.
Richard Younger-Ross: I want to speak in favour of the proposition of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) in relation to buildings that are built without consent. In Committee, he questioned whether the process of building without consent should be considered illegal. He asked whether anybody had read what he had said in Committee, and I happen to have it to hand. He said:
There was a case in the London borough of Wandsworth in which a person tried to build an entire office block without consent, and wondered why the local authority objected. In that case, the local authority continued to object, turned it down, and was eventually supported by the inspector. That building was four houses long and four storeys high. It was hardly a standard small extension that could be ignored. However, many other cases with different circumstances also need to be addressed.
If someone has deliberately and methodically built something, why should that be taken into consideration in the planning application? Why should that be relevant to the decision? I know, as will other hon. Members who have been in the profession, that once a building has been constructed, consent usually follows. The owner claims that he has no money to knock it down, or has used all his savings to construct it. However, those are not relevant matters. The relevant matters are the planning issues. An extension or building should be judged simply on its merits and on whether it complies with planning legislation, the local
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am glad to address this group of amendments, which includes several that I have tabled. I shall address those, as well as new clause 8, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight. He raised a similar issue in Committee and the general tenor of the debate supported what he was trying to achieve. We all know from our constituency postbags that retrospective planning applications are more likely to be granted than not. If someone has failed to comply fully with the provisions of a planning application, or fails to apply for planning consent at all, and builds a property, some strong sanction should be applied to require retrospective planning permission to be obtained. That retrospective application should be treated on exactly the same basis as one made before the construction of the property. That is what new clause 8 seeks to achieve.
Most planning authorities are too understaffed to carry out enforcement properly. That is a real problem for many local planning authorities and will worsen once the Bill, with all its complexities, comes into operation. It is all very well for my hon. Friends to say that the professional who devises the schemethe architect or surveyorshould bear some professional responsibility if a development is not carried out entirely in accordance with the plans, but in many cases the professional's involvement in a scheme ends with drawing up the plans and he has no responsibility for supervising the development thereafter. The client has the responsibility to ensure that the development is carried out properly.
My other concern is that after four years nothing can be done, because a certificate of lawful use can be obtained. In a large, complex rural area, such as my constituency, which is more than 1,000 square miles, it is almost inevitable that some unlawful developments will take place and the planning authority will not find out about them until after the four-year period is up. That is a real problem.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) said that the decision maker must take into account all material points. Of course he must do so, but the balance should lie in favour of planning law being applied. One of the worst planning cases that I have had to deal with was within a couple of months of my being elected, when my constituency was known as Cirencester and Tewkesbury. A builder, who should have known better, had built a house out of pre-cast concrete blocks, but the planning application specified that it should be built of Cotswold stone. The local planning authority required him to demolish the house. I fully supported the local planning authority and he had to take down the whole outer skin of the building. The house has now been built in Cotswold stone and is thoroughly in keeping with its surroundings.
Planning law must be enforced, and we need to consider carefully how we deal with enforcement and retrospective planning applications. If a retrospective planning application is taken to appeal and the appeal fails, enforcement action should be immediate; it should not be subject to a separate hearing and possible further
My amendments take us back to the original Bill at long last, and to some of the matters that were discussed only in scant detail in Committee. Amendment No. 33 would amend clause 43, under which local authorities are allowed to decline to determine similar applicationsthe so-called twin-tracking procedure. Where the conditions under subsections (1) (a) and (b) are satisfied, my amendment provides that there should be an appeal to an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.
Under article 6 of the European convention on human rights, a citizen under the jurisdiction of the convention has a fundamental right of appeal to an independent hearing. It seems to me that if someone makes two similar appeals, or even two appeals that have only marginal differences, and the local authority decides that it does not want to determine one of the appeals, that is to deny that person their human rights. Even if that were not so, let us debate whether the clause is sensible.
Under current planning procedures, if a person makes an application and the local authority does not determine it within the eight weeks allowed, the person can put in a second, similar application that they take to appeal. The idea is that the person should continue to negotiate with the planning authority, which should either give good reasons for its definite determination to turn down the applicationas even if it went to appeal it would not succeedor grant the application. If we abolish that sensible system, I predict that developers will take many more cases to appeal because the local planning authority has not made a determination within the eight-week deadline.
The Government are cutting off their nose to spite their face; they will be landing themselves with many more appeals as a result of the provisions. Of course, they may reply that they will make the planning system work so well that 90 per cent. of planning applications will be determined within the eight-week period. I do not believe that that will happenor not for some considerable time, given the complexity of the Bill. The Government ought to think again. I am certain that if they do not do so while the Bill is in this place, Members of another place will need to consider the clause very carefully indeed.
Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 deal with clause 47, which covers the duration of consents. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 already includes powers for local planning authorities to grant planning permissions with a three-year consent, which can be varied to five years. There is also a further category that I cannot remember. Clause 47 cuts the duration of consents from five years to three years, as, according to the Government, significant large sites, often in city centres, remain undeveloped for far too long. Nobody condones that, but the problem is that it can often take three years or more just to obtain compulsory purchase of such large, complicated sites, let alone anything else.