Barnet Borough Council recently withdrew Planning consent for the erection of x6 self-contained flats in replacement of two semi-detached houses.
The project had narrowly been granted permission on the condition that the flats were built exactly as they were shown in all of the drawings submitted for Planning Permission – an obvious, but important detail.
It then came to light that a mistake had been made on one of the drawings: although the height of the proposed was correct, the neighbouring flats were shown as as taller; when in reality, the ridge of the proposed flats would sit higher than next door.
This mistake was admitted by the developer themselves – but it shot them in the foot.
Since the proposed flatscould not be built exactly as they were shown in the drawings submitted for Planning Permission, as prescribed by the condition, the council revoked their decision and refused appeal.
This does might seem a harsh reaction to an honest mistake.
- The developer was transparent in declaring their mistake
- And legally speaking, it had always been the case that the proposed flatscould not be built exactly as they were shown in all of the drawings, as the drawings contradicted each other; thus, it was always impossible to comply with this condition all along.
The developer challenged the decision at High Court and argued that the planning conditions did not dictate the relationship of the proposed to the existing; but the High Court judged that without a note to suggest otherwise, the drawing was misleading enough for planning consent to be revoked.
One might read this as a warning that we, as architects, need to make sure that what we show on our drawings is accurate and consistent, but it might also be taken to mean that presenting applications with minimal detail might be more of a reliable way of securing Planning Permission.
Contentious decisions walk a thin line through the UK Planning system, and an approval that boils down to technicality merely encourages applicants to provide information that is as vague and minimal as possible. This both makes the Planners’ life more difficult, and encourages poor quality design and design presentation, which surely can’t be a good thing?
It’s a difficult one – it can’t be denied that the judgement was actually correct, in that you can’t take away the ability of the Planning Authority to withdraw an approval if they find that the submitted information was incorrect in a material way; but the unintended consequence of such judgements is to encourage less clear and comprehensive Planning documentation, which will make the Planners’ lives more difficult and inevitably lead to an increase in the number of ‘bad’ planning decisions.