Last week I finished reading Harry Redknapp’s autobiography, Always Managing. It was a thoroughly interesting and insightful read, following his entire career from schoolboy football through his managerial roles, including tenure at Bournemouth AFC. Throughout the read were several amusing anecdotes, including a recount of the time he was short of substitutes and chose to pick a fan from the crowd to play in a friendly. The fan played on to score: “He ran round the field like he’d won the World Cup — we were killing ourselves on the touchline”.
Towards the end of the book Harry reflects on the pressures of the game. He says that he understands the pressure of regular people, paying the bills and putting food on the table, but while he could relate to that from his childhood, he conceded that the pressure he experiences is not of that type. It is a pressure from the game to an extent that he has suffered heart problems in the past, an affliction that is shared by other managers in the game. Perhaps it is the pressure to want the team to win, but it must also be about getting a result for the fans of the team who’s fate is in your hands. I reflected that although I can not, and will never be able to, relate to that unique position and experience I can appreciate that it must be a very stressful and testing time.
This got me thinking about some of my clients. Some of the work that I am doing at the moment is appealing enforcement notices and I know that my clients are experiencing a stress that I cannot relate with, but can appreciate. Planning is a complicated matter at the best of times and for a lot of my enforcement clients this is their first conflict with both the planning regulations and their Council. While with colleagues we will bandy around planning jargon reciting cases and regulation verbatim, with those unfamiliar with the planning system it has to be different. In some ways it is a process of educating, but more often than not it is a process of reassurance, letting them put their trust in me to see them through the process.
The role of planning enforcement has been left somewhat in limbo since the NPPF reduced a whole document to a single paragraph, but there is movement to look at its function and how it should operate in the new planning world. My thoughts on this are fairly simple; you divide the cases into those that persistently offend and flout planning and those that have made a genuine mistake and treat those two sets differently. Council’s are too quick to serve notices without properly engaging with their residents and require expensive results to be delivered within tight deadlines. Despite the Council’s deliberately trying to treat everyone equally I think there is a case for a more pragmatic approach to be taken. Demolition of a structure takes time and money, something that is being overlooked in economically hard times.
In some cases there may be an urgency to resolve a situation, say where a use is disturbing neighbours, but where a compromise can be reached is by requiring different action by different times. For example, say a building is being used in a back garden as a separate unit, the Council could require the use cease the moment the notice becomes active which will overcome the disruption to neighbours and a second notice to require any necessary works take place within a year. This is the flexibility that is sorely lacking in the system at the moment.
The appeals process itself is confusing to those that aren’t doing it daily. The Council’s statement for one appeal was sent to my client who thought it was the Inspector’s decision! It is at those times when I think she most appreciated having us on board. We talked through it and explained where we were in the process, actually picked up on a few points and submitted final comments on her behalf.
I had a case inLondonwhere a man had built an outbuilding in his garden and the Council were taking action because they said it was too big to be considered incidental to the main house. I remember speaking with the Council’s Appeals Officer after the site visit who, despite having just seen the full size snooker table and rows of tools within the building, said to me that it was obvious the building was not being used in conjunction with the main house. He disappointed me with that attitude and I was delighted when the enforcement notice was completely quashed and we won the case. However, the whole sorry mess could have been avoided if the Council had taken a sensible view of the development rather than being stubborn to the point of ineptitude.
My client and his wife that day were very nervous. If the notice had stood the whole building would have needed to be removed along with disposal of his beloved snooker table. I wasn’t nervous that day, the case was solid, but I could understand why they were. In the end there are always matches that can be lost, it is the product of an imperfect system, but as long as the team plays to the best of their ability then there is always a chance. It is putting forward the right personnel or the right tactics when it matters, whether you are the manager of a top flight football team, or a lowly planner.