Eden’s steely stance over planning breaches

Date: Tuesday 5th December 2017

Sir, Your editorial “The iron fist in a kid glove” (Herald, 18th November) raises some valid concerns regarding Eden Council’s legal action against Persimmon Homes.

However, I hope this letter can address those concerns and explain what powers the council has when taking planning enforcement action and, in this instance, why the developer has been provided with four months to comply with the legal notice.

I agree with you that there must be a harmonious relationship between developers and people living near construction sites. Our planning officers always encourage developers to speak to residents and community groups from the beginning to build up a sense of trust and an understanding of what any works proposed will entail.

As you have rightly pointed out there will be a number of developments coming forward in Penrith in the near future, which makes it even more important for developers to be “good neighbours” to our residents of Penrith.

You posed the question “Why, if Eden really wants to get tough, is it allowing the developer four months to comply with the breach of condition notice it handed out this week, rather than enforcing an immediate halt to building work?”

The short response is we cannot legally serve a breach of condition notice (BCN) and request that works cease immediately. By law a BCN must provide at least 28 days’ grace before the notice is complied with.

You might then ask why not give 28 days to comply with the notice instead of four months? The reason the developer was given four months to comply is that it must now apply for planning permission to comply with the planning condition that it was in breach of. Typically this process can take four months and can be broken down as follows:

One month where the applicant prepares documents, details and application forms to be in a position to submit its application to discharge a planning condition.

A period of two months waiting for a decision from our planning officers, whose decision will be dependent on third parties, such as the county council’s highways department.

One additional month to take into account any further information that might be requested from the developer by either our planners or the county’s highways department.

Your readers might say “so what”, it is the developer’s problem that it has breached a planning condition.

However, any planning enforcement action we take has to be proportionate and therefore it would have been deemed unreasonable in law to close down a construction site where the developer would have been powerless to rectify the situation for months.

Therefore, to ask the developer to close down the site immediately would likely have led to legal challenges and ultimately cost the taxpayer money.

What I can tell your readers is that if there are any further problems on site, such as construction traffic accessing the development from the wrong way or turning up at site at 7am or earlier, it is in our power to take further legal action over the next three to four months.

Our planning officers have made the developer aware of this and the developer is seeking to improve communication with its contractors and their construction vehicles to avoid any further legal action from us.

The company is also in communication with the council as it would not want any further legal action to take place. The feedback we have received from residents in taking action is positive and there has been a drop in reports of vehicles going the “wrong way”.

I appreciate that you might feel that our stance is one of “kid glove” treatment, but the reality is we are willing to use all powers that we have at our disposal to protect our residents within the confines of planning law, regardless of who the developer is and how big the construction site is. Yours etc,

JOHN THOMPSON

(Chairman, Eden District Council planning committee)

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