With their flashy lifestyles fuelled by bulging bank balances, usually TV and music stars appear to live in a different world from the rest of us. But when it comes to overhauling where they live, even the deepest pockets can’t buy planning permission for deep excavations, as some of the UK’s best-known celebrities have learned recently.
Jeremy Clarkson is the latest to fall foul of his local planning officers, after councillors at West Oxfordshire District Council rejected the TV presenter’s attempt to build a 60-seat café and 70-space car park on his Oxfordshire estate.
The former Top Gear star had started work before his plans were quashed earlier this month – despite him personally appearing before a sub-committee meeting – on the grounds that the restaurant at his Diddly Squat farm would be “out of keeping” with the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Neighbours were worried the area would turn into a “Jeremy Clarkson theme park”. He has also had to change the green steel roof on his shop to Cotswold tiles.
In Wales, Charlotte Church is struggling with her plans to build an eco-friendly wellness retreat in the Elan Valley, Powys, where she lives in Rhydoldog House, once home to the fashion designer Laura Ashley. In December, council highway officials objected to her proposals, worrying about the amount of additional traffic that guests would generate on local roads.
Ed Sheeran struggled for years to build what he said was a “wildlife pond” (and neighbours called a swimming pool) at his Suffolk estate. That hasn’t stopped him asking to build a small crypt under his personal chapel.
“If you’re super-rich, you can still get knocked back,” Mark Morris, a planning consultant at the firm Urbanist Architecture, tells i. “We’ve had experiences of incredibly rich people who’ve ended up with planning enforcement notices because they’ve said, ‘I’m just going to build this thing; I don’t care.’ And they’ll end up having to dismantle what they’ve built because you can’t just do what you want.”
Clarkson is at the extreme end of an explosion in interest from homeowners in revamping where they live, which planning experts attribute to the pandemic.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in householder planning applications over the last couple of years as people spend more time at home,” says Will Nichols, a planning consultant at Lanpro, a consultancy specialising in urban design. “The administrative churn of lots of tiny little applications for extensions takes a lot of time, and that means a lot of under-resourced local authorities have really struggled.”
Russell Chick, principal planning officer at Isle of Wight Council, says: “Before Covid, we typically dealt with about 1,400 planning applications a year. We’re now up to about 1,800 a year with no increase in staff. So it’s really busy.”
Planning permission nightmares of the rich and famous
The presenter of This Morning has been frustrated by many rejected proposals to extend her six-bedroom Edwardian home in London. Willoughby and her husband Dan Baldwin were told in 2016 that they could not build a two-storey extension. Last April they submitted their 14th application since buying the house for £2.8m in 2011, according to The Sun – this time for a one-storey extension. A neighbour said it would cause unacceptable noise for “such an expensive area to live. I don’t pay taxes to get this level of disruption.” A planning officer ruled that the extension’s “excessive scale” would be “an inappropriate and unsympathetic form of development harmful to the character and appearance of the host building”.
Even royalty need planning permission. Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate aims to build 2,500 homes on 300 acres of farmland in Faversham, Kent. A planning application is yet to be submitted, but some locals plan to oppose “building on prime agricultural land” and are complaining to Swale Borough Council.
The Heart radio DJ’s plans for a gym in the garden of his home in Chiswick, west London, were rejected by Hounslow Council earlier this month. He intended to include “a CrossFit style gym, with space for sled pushing, battle ropes and plyometric box jumps”, plus a shower and toilet, a home office with a wood-burning stove and a kitchenette, the Mirror reported. But another local resident complained to the council: “This application has been designed in such a way that it facilitates future use as a beds-in sheds facility.”
The latest government figures show that district-level planning authorities in England received 114,400 applications for planning permission between July and September 2021, up 7 per cent from the corresponding quarter of 2020. But for the previous three months, they received 128,400 applications for planning permission, up 45 per cent from the previous year.
Cheshire East Council is among those desperate to recruit extra staff to deal with the backlog in applications, which are running around 15 per cent higher than before the pandemic. Lorraine O’Donnell, its chief executive, has blamed the private sector for luring planners away from councils.
Applications are taking up to six months to determine; the statutory time limit for household and minor planning applications is supposed to be eight weeks.
“As a planning officer, you’ve always got about 40 cases to deal with,” says Chick, who has worked in the profession for 15 years. “You have to try to move them along; it’s like a slow production line.
“On a typical day, you might be trying to write a report for an application you’ve dealt with, you might be going on site to look at a new planning application, dealing with a complaint from someone, or advising a developer before they submit a planning application.”
He adds: “The amount of work you have to put in to justify an approval or assess any planning application has increased. There is much more scrutiny in terms of impact on protected species and habitats, and more scrutiny from people looking at applications – because anyone can google all sorts of things planning officers are looking into and become back-seat experts and challenge us.”
Planning officers determine up to 95 per cent of applications. Only the most controversial cases – such as Clarkson’s proposed café, which received 53 objections compared to 12 letters of support – are voted on by elected councillors who sit on their local planning committee.
When Thomas Martin-Wells, founder of West Sussex-based Slake Spirits, wanted to move his gin distillery from his sister’s garage to his own premises on the edge of Worthing, he found himself confronting the borough’s planning committee after receiving five objections to his planning application.
“If I’d taken independent advice, I would have been told I didn’t need any planning permission,” he says, “because I wasn’t changing anything externally on the building. The objections had a real whiff of nimbyism, but I went to talk to some of the people who had objected to put their mind at ease.”
His application, which included being allowed to show people around the distillery, was eventually approved – but he wound up with 11 restrictions on how he can use the building, a former laboratory.
“A lot are unenforceable; bizarre things like not allowing visitors upstairs,” he says. “It was quite a long, drawn-out and painful process. It’s a part of my life I’m trying to put out of my mind.”
Taylor Giacoma is a musician who runs Semitone Studios, a live music venue and recording facility in Stockport, Greater Manchester. In November 2020, she wanted to knock down a dilapidated porch on the side of their building and rebuild it as extra studio space on the existing footprint.
This should have fallen safely within what’s called permitted development rights, which enable some projects to proceed without planning application, but one builder advised her to check with her local council. She ended up applying for permission she didn’t need.
The process cost her £787 – £487 for the planning application plus £300 to a draughtsperson for drawings “because the project included windows”. Giacoma adds: “We had to pay that just to ask permission to knock down that old porch and build something in the same spot. Bonkers!”
What makes planning a tricky topic is that decisions are subjective. “Planning is a grey area,” says Chick. “It’s very rare that decisions are a yes or no answer.”
If someone – like, say, Jeremy Clarkson – is unhappy about a verdict, they can attempt to appeal the decision either by contesting the rejection, offering some new arguments, or modifying the original application to take some of the objections into account before resubmitting it.
After an appeal, for those still unhappy, the only option is to go through a judicial review, a process that challenges how the decision was made rather than the decision itself. “When I became a planning officer, we’d have maybe one judicial review every two of three years. Now we get threatened with judicial reviews on most big cases,” says Chick. “They are extremely time-consuming.”
The best way to avoid hassle and save time, experts agree, is seek advice early (ideally from an architect, although a decent builder will do), and talk to your neighbours before they pile in with their objections.
Above all, be thorough and patient. “You can’t go into this thinking there is some magic way of it happening quickly, because it won’t,” says Morris. Not even if you’re really rich and famous.
Original posted at inews.co.uk