Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Earth-moving for garden landscaping
A topic that has vaguely troubled me for some years is the doubtful status in planning terms of engineering works carried out in a domestic garden in order to realise some of the more adventurous garden designs that are publicised on TV as well as in various magazines.
The General Permitted Development Order is of limited assistance here. Part 1, Class E permits the provision within the curtilage of (among other things) any building or enclosure, swimming or other pool, required for the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such. “Building” would include anything that amounts to a structure, so various built features could be included in the design, subject to the limitations and conditions set out in Class E. For example, raised decking (or any balcony or other raised platform) is ruled out if its height from natural ground level is greater than 300 millimetres. Class F also permits hard surfacing, and this is not limited as to its area (in contrast with Class E). [There are, of course, exclusions, limitations and conditions in Class E, which I have discussed in a previous blog post, and do not propose to repeat here.]
When addressing a meeting of SWENFORCE (South West enforcement officers) last week, I speculated that one might also rely on Part 2 in respect of fences, gates, walls and other means of enclosure, but an earth bund (which could in principle come within Part 2 if it performs the function of enclosure) would not be permitted development if it was wider than is really necessary to perform that function or if it does not in reality act as a means of enclosure. In some circumstances, it might be possible to argue that raised banking in the garden does in fact constitute a structure, and is therefore permitted development under Part 1, Class E, but the position remains uncertain.
What is certainly not covered by the GPDO is more extensive excavation, and other earth-moving, taking the form of engineering operations rather than building operations. And yet I can think of quite a few garden landscaping schemes, even involving fairly extensive earth-moving, which have produced an entirely acceptable garden landscape, and which have no appreciable impact in planning terms. It seems to me that there is a lacuna in this respect in the GPDO, and there should perhaps be an additional Class within Part 1 of the Second Schedule to cater for works of this type.
The enforcement officers to whom I was lecturing had not encountered this problem in the course of their work, and this certainly accords with my own impression that most local planning authorities turn a blind eye to what in theory might be unauthorised development in the garden, presumably because no-one ever complains about it. The problem is that if a jealous or resentful neighbour does complain, there may be one or two enforcement officers who will see it as their mission to charge into action over it.
I am only aware of one appeal decision that is in any way relevant to this topic. Enforcement action was taken by Greenwich LBC against works carried out in the rear garden of a house as part of a televised makeover of the garden (instigated and broadcast by the BBC no less!). However, this action appears to have been directed at the structures that had been built, including two cube structures and an area of decking, plus a structure made out of old telegraph poles. In practice, it seems that it was only the height of these that was a problem, and the inspector accepted that reducing them below 3 metres in height would be acceptable. The question of any earth-moving or other landscaping does not seems to have arisen in this case.
In practice, even if the earth-works do amount to engineering operations, it is very unlikely in most cases that it would be expedient, under section 172, to serve an enforcement notice, and I would hope that common sense would prevail. I can’t recall off-hand if the NPPG repeats earlier ministerial advice to the effect that enforcement action should not be taken simply in order to ‘regularise’ the position where planning permission has not been obtained for development, if the development is doing no real harm in planning terms, but this principle should apply in any event.
The proper and permanent solution, however, would be an amendment of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to GPDO to permit engineering works for the purpose of landscaping a domestic garden. No doubt it would be necessary to set certain parameters, but this would be better than the continuance of the uncertain and unsatisfactory situation that obtains at present.
© MARTIN H GOODALL