High Court Opens Way for Demolition of ‘Concealed’ Cottage

Buildings that are constructed without planning consent generally become immune from enforcement action four years after they are completed. However, as one High Court case made clear, that rule does not apply where a development is concealed.

The case concerned an isolated cottage that a couple had built without permission. During the critical four-year period, they gave the impression that they lived elsewhere. The cottage was not registered as a separate address, they delayed going onto the electoral register and they did not register for Council Tax.

The cottage had been in place for well over four years by the time the local authority obtained a planning enforcement order from a judge. In challenging that order, the couple argued that the council had for years been aware of the cottage’s presence, not least because it had received numerous complaints about it.

In rejecting their appeal, however, the Court noted that the case had to be viewed in the light of the poor planning history of the couple’s land, on which there had been multiple erection of buildings and changes of use without planning consent. On the evidence, the judge was entitled to conclude that the development had been deliberately concealed. The Court’s ruling meant that it was open to the council to demand the cottage’s demolition.

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