I bought a house in London last summer. It is a tiny house – just two bedrooms and the only bathroom is off one of the bedrooms – but it is on a huge plot and there is a lot of potential to extend it.
My architect submitted an application for extensions but we have been waiting for six months for a decision and the planners seem to have done nothing at all so far. They won’t answer the phone or respond to emails. This just wouldn’t be allowed in any other organisation.
My house is sitting empty and we are in limbo, paying two mortgages. Am I entitled to compensation? Can I at least get the planning application fee back, and is there no comeback at all for their behaviour? GM
In some areas, planning applications are dragging on for months and missing the statutory eight week period
MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: This is a deeply frustrating situation given you are paying two mortgages and you don’t know how long it will be before a decision about your extension is made by the planners.
In some areas, planning applications are dragging on for months – even though a decision should be made in the statutory eight-week period.
We speak to a planning expert about the best steps to take and whether you can get any of your money back.
We speak to an expert about whether you are entitled to compensation and can get the planning application fee back
Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner, explains: The planning system is in a worse state than I have known it in 15 years of practice. Planning applications are dragging on for months. Unbelievably, some are never decided at all. It is almost impossible to reach individual planners by phone and emails are regularly ignored.
I last worked as a case officer in local councils almost ten years ago, and although we complained about workloads we rarely missed an eight-week deadline for issuing a decision.
Today, the eight-week deadline is met less than half the time, according to Government statistics. Council planning departments have never been exemplars of efficiency, but the system is currently in a state of semi-collapse.
It is particularly frustrating for you because your house lies empty while you wait to extend and renovate before moving in. I have several clients in exactly the same position. So, what can be done?
There is a mechanism in the planning system for overcoming this problem.
You have a right of appeal to the planning inspectorate on the grounds of ‘non-determination’ – i.e. on the basis that a decision was not made in the statutory eight-week period. The planning inspectorate is a Government agency, separate from local councils and based in Bristol.
However, there are a couple of disadvantages. The first is that appeals on non-determination take six months, whereas your council might be about to make a decision on your extension.
Once you appeal, the application is taken away from them. In other words, an appeal might just cause further delays.
The second is that it is conceivable that the council would grant consent (once they get round to a decision), but an inspector could take the opposite view. It is better to find out what the council thinks of a proposal, keeping an appeal as a backup if they refuse.
Rather than appeal, it is best to keep applying gentle pressure on your case officer. It doesn’t help to get angry, but case officers will probably prioritise the applications that are generating the most noise.
If they continue to stonewall, contact their line manager and your local ward councillors. Don’t leave this to your planning agent, if you have one – they do not feel the same urgency that you do and won’t be as willing to really make a nuisance of themselves.
In extreme cases, where I have felt that an application is lost within a planning department, I have withdrawn it and resubmitted it as a fresh attempt, bringing it back to the top of the pike and giving it a new eight-week target, which case officers have an incentive to meet.
The planning system does not provide for compensation if planning applications are not decided in time (or at all) but you might have recourse through the council’s own complaints process and, ultimately, the local government ombudsman.
If an application is not decided within six months, you can claim your fee back, but the application fee for homeowner extensions is modest – £206 – and its refund would probably be cold comfort.
Martin Gaine is a chartered town planner and author of ‘How to Get Planning Permission – An Insider’s Secrets