Friday, 29 July 2011

Don’t knock it down!

Following my piece on the hazards of barn conversions [More Development in Wonderland], ‘Major Loophole’ has drawn my attention to a recent case of unauthorised demolition of a Regency-period house in Twickenham. A succinct summary of the facts was published in yesterday’s Evening Standard.

This has nothing to do with barn conversions, but is nevertheless an interesting example of what can happen when a building which was intended to be altered and extended has been entirely demolished, with a view to its complete rebuilding.

This was an unlisted building in a Conservation Area, so could not be demolished without express consent. ‘Major Loophole’ wonders whether the rule in Shimizu might apply in a case of this nature, but it seems clear from the published photos that the demolition involved the whole or substantially the whole of the house, so Shimizu (which ruled that partial demolition of an unlisted building does not need Conservation Area Consent) would not have assisted the developer in this case. Conservation lobbyists have long campaigned for legislation to reverse the Shimizu judgment, but the issue has been put on the back burner by successive governments.

In the Twickenham case, the Crown Court has fined the owner £80,000 plus £42,500 costs. ‘Major Loophole’ is uncomfortable about the nature and proportionality of the LPA's and Court's reaction, bearing in mind that it seems the owner was still going to end up with substantially the same development as that for which he had obtained permission. ‘Loophole’ suggests that the Court's decision seems to have been to penalise the man for finding a more economical method of getting to that same 'end point', and perhaps improving the energy efficiency of the resultant building in the process.

I don’t propose to be drawn into a debate about the rights and wrongs of this from a policy point of view. As I have said, the rule in Shimizu did not apply in this case and so an offence had clearly been committed. The fundamental point is that it was not lawful to go about the development in this way. The court clearly looked on this as a serious offence, and this is reflected in the level of the fine.

It seems to me that there must also now be a question mark over the planning permission which the developer had obtained for the alteration and extension of the house. If, as a result of the demolition of the property, this permission is no longer capable of being implemented, then the owner may now require a fresh planning permission for the entire rebuilding of the house, incorporating such alterations to the design as the Council may be prepared to accept (which may not include all the extra accommodation originally proposed, now that the development is starting from a cleared site). At the very least the Council will no doubt want the new house to be externally identical to its previous appearance, so as to match the adjoining semi-detached Regency house with which it formed a pair.

I don’t know what other action the Council may have taken in this matter. They may have served an enforcement notice, which will be a further complication for the developer. He can no doubt expect that the Council will be watching him like a hawk from now on.



  1. Well Martin, before Major Loophole becomes to uncomfortable about the nature and proportionality of the LPA's and Courts reaction - perhaps he should bear in mind the applicants quite deliberate intention to avoid VAT!? And if he wanted an eco friendly, sustainable new build he should have applied for one (albeit elsewhere perhaps). His troubles are far from over methinks... There's a very interesting piece by Sebastian O'Kelly in the Mail on Sunday supplement (31 July). Since knocking down the house Mr Johnson (a rental property investor) has made two further applications, one for a replacement of what he demolished and one for a replica incorporating what was originally approved. His wish is to rebuild his 'family home' as soon as possible - good luck with that!

  2. Sorry to add a comment to such an old post, but I was wondering whether establishing whether something amounts to substantial demolition as per Shimizu was still applicable for demolition of part of a wall in a conservation area in light of the addition of part 196D and the clarity provided by THE TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING (DEMOLITION - DESCRIPTION OF BUILDINGS) DIRECTION 2014? Those seem to clearly establish the parameters for what would constitute demolition in such a case - i.e. demolition of any part of a wall (of above 1m or 2m in height, depending on position) in a conservation area would constitute development and require permission. Or would you interpret this differently? Many thanks.

  3. In response to Mark N’s comment, I think he is right. We have moved on a bit as a result of the changes that he cites, and Shimizu would no longer seem to assist over-enthusiastic developers in a conservation area.