Bishop's Stortford couple launch national campaign after planning battle with Connect Scaffolding firm next door to their grade II listed country home Hadham Park House
A couple involved in a legal wrangle with a scaffolding company next to their historic country house have launched a campaign calling on the Government to review the "antiquated" planning process.
Mike Tattum and Jane Bell have been in dispute with Connect Scaffolding after the company expanded its operation beside grade II listed Hadham Park House in Hadham Park, off the A120 near the Tesco roundabout in Bishop's Stortford.
The couple claim Connect has extended its works by exploiting the planning process and accuse planning authority East Herts Council of not using its enforcement powers. They say their rural idyll has been ruined after the company erected 12 portable cabins and a 4m (13ft) high fence next to the boundary of their home.
Oliver Cave, who owns Connect Scaffolding, disputes his company has flouted planning rules and insists he cares about the impact of his business on his neighbours.
Now Mike and Jane have launched Action On Planning, a campaign to urge the Government to review the retrospective planning process to ensure councils take swift action against transgressors.
They say the current enforcement system is antiquated and needs strengthening to stop unauthorised development, and that the rules around retrospective applications need to be totally overhauled.
Jane said: “We feel our case is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are numerous more examples that require the current planning laws to be changed, with a greater focus on directing local authorities to take immediate enforcement action against those who transgress planning rules.
"We've been informed that the current enforcement process is discretionary and that it is for enforcement officers and local councillors to determine if action is required, and this is where the system fails and is being exploited. There's no certainty for victims and a huge variation in how planners do or do not enforce.
“We're going to mount a national campaign to draw this situation to the attention of the wider public, and to press for Government to amend the existing legislation to rectify the injustices of the current broken system.”
Mike said research he had carried out illustrated that changes to the enforcement system several years ago were not working.
"Lots of planning authorities have never issued an enforcement notice while other authorities are using their discretion to allow planning transgressors to get away unchallenged," he said.
“Government should also legislate that if there are five or more objections to any planning application, it should go before the full planning committee and not be left to the discretion of a single council member."
He accused East Herts of lacking transparency for not allowing the retrospective planning issues in their case to be heard before a full committee, as the chairman has discretion and decided not to consider the issue in public.
“We need fairness in a system where rules are too complex and are being applied inconsistently. The existing system is a chancer’s charter and our Action On Planning campaign seeks to lobby Government to introduce a fairer system, with rules that work and have teeth to deter those who seek to circumnavigate planning laws.”
A spokesman for East Herts Council said planning enforcement was a discretionary power set out in legislation.
"This means that the council, as the local planning authority (LPA), may take planning enforcement action where there has been a breach of planning control and it is expedient to do so, having regard to the development plan and any other material considerations," he said.
"It must also be in the public interest to take action and the LPA must act proportionately in responding to breaches of planning control. In considering any enforcement action, the LPA should have regard to the National Planning Policy Framework."
Information on the nature of applications that go to the council's development management committee, including the role of the chairman, can be found in the council’s constitution on its website, said the spokesman.