Can a developer get permission to build on land it doesn't own?

PROPERTY CLINIC: Can a developer get permission to build on land near my house that it doesn’t own?

  • An applicant is allowed to apply for planning permission on someone else’s land
  • The correct notices must have been served as part of the planning application
  • Contact the case officer to see if the land is protected by any planning policies
  • Lobby your local ward councillors to make enquiries on your behalf 

A planning application has been submitted for a large new housing development near my house.

The plans include some land that I don’t think the developer owns and that I understand to be public amenity space. 

Is the developer entitled to build on this land? DF

If you’re concerned about a planning application in your area, it is worth checking to see if the correct notices must have been served as part of the planning application

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: If you’re concerned about plans for new housing on land near you, it is worth investigating further.

This includes looking into whether the correct procedures have been followed during each stage of the planning process.

For example, find out who owns all of the land that the developer proposes to build on, as they may not own all of it.

It may be amenity space owned by the council, for example. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect such an area of land to be protected for use by local residents

We speak to a planning expert about what can be done to investigate further.

Martin Gaine, a chartered town planner, replies: It may seem odd, but an applicant is allowed to apply for planning permission for a development on someone else’s land, as long as they notify the true owner of the land that they have done so. 

Of course, even if they obtain planning permission they can’t simply turn up on site with bulldozers – they would need the owners’ permission to enter the land and carry out any work.

The reason you can apply for permission on land you don’t own is that the planning system is not really concerned about who owns land, but rather about whether it can be developed without harming the area around it. 

It establishes the principle of development in planning terms but doesn’t override any other legal constraints, such as ownership.

If you are concerned that the developer has not properly identified, and notified, the owners of some of the land within the site, contact the case officer to check whether the correct notices have been served as part of the planning application. 

You can try and find out who owns the land by contacting the Land Registry, though not all land is formally registered.

That some of the land is public amenity space does not automatically mean that planning permission cannot be granted for its redevelopment. 

If it is designated as protected amenity space by local planning policies, you can expect the council to refuse planning permission unless there are some exceptional circumstances that justify granting it (such as a severe housing shortage in the area). 

There may be reasons why the developer will not be able to develop the land even if planning permission is granted – it might be restricted by legal covenants, for example.

If the land is used by the community as amenity space – a public garden or children’s play area, for example – its loss should be a planning consideration and should be taken into account in the planning decision. 

Speak to the case officer to work out whether the land is protected by any planning policies and lobby your local ward councillors to make enquiries on your behalf. 

Even if the council chooses to grant permission for the wider development, it might negotiate with the developer to create new public amenity areas within the development.

It may be that it is the council itself that owns these areas of land, which will give them some leverage over the developer in any negotiations.

  • Martin Gaine is a chartered town planner and author of ‘How to Get Planning Permission – An Insider’s Secrets’

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