Religious Charity Pays Price for Repeated Breaches of Planning Control
Those who play fast and loose with the planning system can expect to receive their comeuppance in the end. A religious charity found that out to its cost after converting a suburban builder’s yard into a place of worship without planning consent.
After purchasing the yard, the charity demolished and constructed various buildings and established a mosque on the ground floor of a former workshop. On receiving numerous complaints from local residents, the local authority refused to grant the charity retrospective planning permission and issued an enforcement notice, requiring it to cease the unauthorised change of use.
The charity, however, successfully appealed to a government planning inspector who overturned the enforcement notice and granted planning consent, subject to conditions. The number of worshippers using the mosque at any one time was limited to 30, restrictions were placed on the mosque’s opening hours and a ban was imposed on the use of amplified sound equipment.
A man who lived with his family in a semi-detached house next door to the mosque challenged the inspector’s decision. He complained of food waste and packaging overflowing into his garden, causing noxious smells and encouraging rodents, and of parking problems and noise and light pollution.
Upholding his claim and quashing the inspector’s decision, the High Court noted that this was not the first time the charity had breached planning controls. It had also converted two houses in the same street into a community centre without planning consent. That development had subsequently been regularised by a retrospective grant of permission. However, the history of the charity’s conduct implied a lack of respect for the purpose of the planning regime and the inspector was bound to take that into account in reaching his decision.
The inspector had gone far beyond granting planning permission for the limited use of the mosque, also enabling the use of outside space and outbuildings as places of worship. His decision was fundamentally flawed in that the conditions he imposed did not address the highly contentious planning issues which arose in respect of the entire site and did not strike a fair balance between the aspirations of the charity and the impact on the amenity of local residents.