At what point do repairs or improvements to an old building become so extensive as to effectively create a new one? The Court of Appeal addressed that issue in the case of a landowner who spent over 20 years transforming a Victorian barn.
The landowner said that he had done no more than repair and improve the existing barn, using much of its original fabric and building materials. The local authority took a different view, however, and served him with an enforcement notice requiring him to remove the entire building. That was on the basis that he had erected a new building in the Green Belt without planning permission.
The notice was later upheld by a planning inspector who found that the overall effect of the works carried out on the barn over the years was to create a new and unified structure. The building lacked heating and sanitation; electric work was incomplete and doors and windows had yet to be fitted. However, the inspector found that it was designed for residential rather than agricultural use and was unmistakably a dwelling house in the course of construction.
He further ruled that the incremental works were not substantially complete on a date four years prior to service of the enforcement notice and that the development did not, therefore, enjoy immunity from enforcement action under Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The landowner’s challenge to the inspector’s decision was later rejected by a judge.
Dismissing his appeal against that outcome, the Court detected no legal error in the inspector’s conclusion that a new building had been created in place of the old. The building’s residential purpose was plain from its appearance and physical layout. The inspector’s conclusion that the works had not been substantially completed before the relevant date was legally impeccable.
The Court noted that the result of the case was unfortunate for the landowner. In the light of the inspector’s assessment, however, the reality was that, instead of applying for planning permission, he pressed ahead with the erection of a new building in place of the one he had acquired when he bought the site. He continued with the unauthorised building works for many years and the council was entitled to take enforcement action. The requirement to remove the building was not punitive, disproportionate or unjust.