Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about guidance to local authorities on when to take enforcement action for breaches of planning law; to clarify guidance on the scope of permitted development rights; to make provision about rights and entitlements, including of appeal, for people whose homes are affected by such breaches; to make provision for the inspection and regulation of building under the permitted development regime; to establish financial penalties for developers who breach planning law in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.
The Selly Oak Village and Bournbrook parts of my constituency were once particularly attractive places, full of small terraced and other family homes on a series of quiet, interlocking, tree-lined streets. Nowadays, a walk down Hubert, Teignmouth or Dawlish Roads reveals a very different scene. One is visually assaulted by a series of “To Let” boards of all shapes and sizes, installed at all angles. The streets, pavements and small front gardens are littered with skips, builders’ rubble, sand and cement, and there is constant noise at all hours, including at weekends, of additional bedrooms being hammered and bolted on to dwellings. Where once we could expect to see rows of small family homes, we now witness architectural carbuncles jutting at odd angles, extending into adjacent houses and covering rear gardens. Additional bedrooms are variously described as sheds, games rooms and saunas.
My local authority seems powerless to arrest this destruction. It says that enforcement action is costly and the guidance from central Government is unclear. Enforcement action is discretionary and local authorities are required to act proportionately. Birmingham City Council has advised me that it has no policy of limiting the number of planning enforcement cases that it pursues, but I note that there has been a steady reduction in recent years. To be fair, it has initiated a limited article 4 direction covering a small part of my constituency, which means that planning permission is needed before a family house can be converted into a house in multiple occupation for up to six people—a change, as I understand it, from class 3 to class 4 use. However, the problems continue. The issue is not confined to one area of my constituency or to one part of Birmingham, but affects many towns and cities across the country, as is evidenced by the broad support for the Bill.
Examples of the problems include those of Mr and Mrs White, a retired couple, who I believe are in the Gallery. The developer who bought the house next door commenced an extension that in effect changed their detached home into a semi-detached property, as the roof extension expanded to sit on top of their roof and guttering. The council failed to take enforcement action, despite the fact that the work commenced without planning approval and was beyond the scope of permitted development. A surveyor’s report has indicated the damage done to the external wall of their home. This has cost them thousands of pounds in court fees, but as yet, the problem continues.
In Tiverton Road, Mrs O’Sullivan complained that work on an extension, which included digging up the foundations in a shared alleyway, had commenced without planning permission. The council agreed to investigate, but advised in advance that
“in deciding whether it would be expedient to take enforcement action, the council has to take into account whether any breach of planning control unacceptably affects public amenity or the use of land and buildings which should be protected in the public interest.”
In this case, the extension was not covered by permitted development regulations and needed planning approval. None the less, the council judged that the risk to Mrs O’Sullivan’s property constituted limited harm, and that her loss of light did not justify action.
In Bournbrook Road, a constituent complained about a landlord’s development that exceeded the dimensions on the plan available on the council website, but was told that officers had concluded that it was not expedient to take any action. In Gristhorpe Road, Miss Tempest complained that the Britannia Group continued to build extensions designed to convert homes into eight-bedroom properties, despite planning permission being refused. Elsewhere in Gristhorpe Road, cowboy builders demolished, without permission, the chimneys and gas flues that supported the gas fire of an elderly couple, putting them at serious risk. At another property, when a constituent complained, the council admitted that a three-level development overlooking his garden and those of his neighbours completely disregarded the article 4 direction and was without permission.
I could go on. I have case after case of rogue developers and cowboy builders doing as they please. All these cases are about ordinary people who have worked and saved for their family home, only to find that landlords and developers are working hand in glove with cowboy builders to buy up nearby properties and turning their road or street into a series of mini-hostels. It is no surprise that the value of the properties then plummets to the point at which the only person buying is yet another developer, and so the cycle begins again.
As I have investigated the issue, I have become aware of an unintended consequence of the permitted development arrangements. I want to be clear that I have nothing against permitted development—I welcome the Government’s good intentions in trying to make it easier for people to make small alterations or additions to their home—but I am not sure that the Government ever intended this permission to be exploited by ruthless landlords and developers, who are destroying family homes and bringing misery to thousands of ordinary family and retired couples, such as the Whites. The local authority advises me that the changes in the law mean that many agents and owners are unclear about what they can and cannot build. Strangely, those who advise the rogue landlords always err on the side of ever-greater expansion.
My ten-minute rule Bill seeks to achieve four things. First, it calls on the Department for Communities and Local Government to produce clearer guidance for planning authorities on when enforcement action should be taken, and asks all local authorities to publish an enforcement plan so that there are fewer grey areas. Secondly, it calls for a simple right of appeal for the victims of rogue building when the local authority concludes that it is not expedient to act.
Thirdly, the Bill asks that extensions be checked independently against building regulations to make sure that they are safe. At present, there is nothing to stop a rogue developer employing his or her own inspector to sign off the dodgy work done by his or her team of cowboy builders. If we do not act on this, a tragedy will surely follow.
Finally, the Bill calls on the Government to consider the introduction of fixed-penalty fines to serve as a deterrent against the actions of rogue developers. The penalties would be modelled on those that the Government propose in clause 86 of the Housing and Planning Bill to deal with rogue landlords.
This ten-minute rule Bill calls for a modest number of changes that are designed to protect family homes, address the enforcement problems and ease the position on permitted development so that it once again fulfils the aspirations of Ministers, without giving a licence to ride roughshod over local people and destroy family homes and local communities. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Steve McCabe, Paul Blomfield, Mr Nigel Evans, Michael Fabricant, Diana Johnson, Norman Lamb, Shabana Mahmood, Greg Mulholland, Jess Phillips and Dr Alan Whitehead present the Bill.
Steve McCabe accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January, and to be printed (Bill 100).