To what extent should aesthetic considerations be permitted to stand in the way of the reasonable use of land? The Upper Tribunal (UT) addressed that thorny issue in blocking a proposal to build a side-extension to a house in an architect-designed mews.
A couple had obtained planning permission for the long and narrow extension to their home with a view to providing more space for their growing family. However, they encountered opposition from their neighbours in the mews, which was built in the 1980s to a uniform design created by an eminent architectural practice.
The neighbours pointed out that residents of the mews were subject to a restrictive covenant in their title deeds which forbade the making of any alterations or additions to their properties that would materially affect their external appearance. Faced with that obstacle, the couple applied to the UT to modify the covenant so that they could proceed with their extension.
Whilst the neighbours accepted that the extension would represent a reasonable use of the site, they contended that it would harm the visual uniformity conferred by the original design of the mews. They asserted that, if the extension were permitted, it would create a damaging precedent for the future. For their part, the couple were adamant that their proposal would cause no harm to their neighbours.
Ruling on the matter, the UT noted that the question of whether the extension would disrupt the aesthetic character of the mews was highly subjective. The modest scale of the proposal would not have a cramping effect on the mews and would have a negligible impact on neighbours’ outlook from their homes. The UT took the view, however, that it would harm the cohesive visual appeal of the mews.
In rejecting the couple’s application, the UT ruled that, in providing certainty that the visual appearance of the mews would remain unaltered, the covenant secured a practical benefit of substantial value to residents. In the densely developed mews, outside space and light were at a premium and the covenant clearly protected attributes that were worth preserving. Neighbours were entitled to be concerned that, if permitted, the extension would encourage others to pursue similar projects and increase the likelihood of successful planning applications.