Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Welwyn Hatfield BC

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v. Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council [2011] UKSC 15.  Mr. Beesley obtained planning permission to build a barn on his land.  He built a construction that outwardly resembled a barn, but that was, in fact, a house.  Having lived in the house for over four years, Beesley then applied for a certificate under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that his continuing use of the building as a house was lawful.  Beesley relied upon section 171B(2) of the Act, which stated that:

‘Where there has been a breach of planning control consisting in the change of use of any building to use as a single dwelling-house, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of the period of four years beginning with the date of the breach.’

The Supreme Court found that Beesley could not rely on this section as there had not been a ‘change of use’: the building had always been a home, not a barn.  Additionally, though Beesley’s conduct was not – it seemed – criminal, it was a deliberate attempt to deceive the planning authorities.  Even though the statutory language was unqualified, public policy prevented him from obtaining this statutory benefit through deception.  The decision on this point went against the Secretary of State who, supporting Beesley, argued that allowing such a public policy exception would reduce the clarity and certainty of the planning regime, objectives that the statute had aimed to secure.