Two recent cases show how it is both possible and impossible to defeat the planning system!

In the first case, the Court of Appeal upheld an appeal by the owners to avoid eviction from a structure which had been granted planning permission as a hay barn, but fitted out and occupied as a "luxury two storey house". The development occurred more than four years before the owners applied for a certificate of lawfulness, which if granted would have given immunity from enforcement proceedings.

The application was refused but upheld on appeal by a planning inspector.

The council appealed to the High Court stating that the scheme was a fraud. The judge said that the four-year rule did not give the owners protection, as otherwise they would have "got away with a plot to get around the planning laws and obtain a dwellinghouse in breach of Green Belt policies". The council therefore had the discretion to remove the owners from their house. The owners appealed the council's decision to require them to leave. In a "surprising" decision, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal.

However, in another case, a developer (Mr Fidler) built a dwellinghouse (including a tower with turrets) without planning permission, behind straw bales which were retained for four years. The High Court found that the removal of the straw bales was part of the development operations and that the development was not substantially completed until the straw was removed. Therefore, although the dwelling had been constructed more than four years before exposure, the four-year period did not start until the removal of the bales. On that basis, the development was not immune from enforcement action by the council. No reference was made to the first case above, but Mr Fidler has indicated an intention to appeal.