Times change and property owners who have voluntarily agreed to restrictions being placed on the use to which they can put their land often come to regret having done so. However, as a judge’s ruling made plain, a deal is a deal and, save in exceptional circumstances, the law will hold them to their bargain.
A couple obtained planning consent to demolish their home on a 1930s-built housing estate and construct two new ones in its place. Their intention was that an elderly relative would live in the smaller of the new properties. However, they encountered opposition from the management company that owned the estate’s roads and verges. The company was run voluntarily by other residents of the estate.
Prior to moving into their home, the couple had entered into a deed of easement that granted them rights of way over the estate roads in connection with the use of their land for a single private dwelling house. It was in reliance on that deed that the company sought an injunction against the couple preventing them from implementing their planning consent.
Ruling on the matter, the County Court noted that the couple had acted properly in that they had discussed their plans with the company and their neighbours at the outset and had not attempted to steal a march by pre-emptively starting the development. They fully intended to minimise any problems arising from the demolition and construction works, which they viewed as a sensible means of accommodating their relative.
In granting the injunction sought, however, the Court noted that the development would take at least 21 months to complete. Whilst inconvenience, disruption and obstruction arising from the project might not be quite as bad as the company feared, it would be more than minor. The company placed a high value on maintaining the estate’s ‘one plot, one house’ policy and was concerned that others might be encouraged to infill or overdevelop their single plots.
The Court rejected the couple’s argument that it would be oppressive to block their plans. As owner of the roads and verges, the company was freely entitled to place limits on their use by others. Having received advice, the couple had signed the deed only about 10 years previously in the knowledge that it was legally binding and that it placed a restriction on their use of their property.