Planning Case Study – Public Inquiry Planning Appeal – Retention of Mobile Home for Forestry Worker

Samuel & Son have recently won a planning case through a public inquiry planning appeal to assist a client retain a mobile home for a forestry worker.

Samuel & Son were approached by Mark and Bo Herbert in February 2013 to assist them in submitting a planning application to a Kent Local Planning Authority (LPA) for a temporary three year licence to retain and extend a mobile home on their woodland farm which served as home for the couple and their four young children.  At the time, the LPA were pursuing enforcement action against Mark and Bo to remove their mobile home from the site following an unsuccessful application to the LPA to retain the dwelling submitted by Mark and Bo themselves.

The applicants owned a site comprising of 5 acres of wildflower meadow, an agricultural barn and the mobile home that had been installed without planning consent.

This site served as a base to manage about 100 acres of immediately surrounding woodland, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Ancient Woodland.

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These 100 acres were owned by 8 separate landowners with whom Mark & Bo had formal tenancy agreements to manage this woodland on their behalves with a communal interest in protecting and enhancing the sensitive ecological habitat.  Dan Page assisted in providing comprehensive Heads of Terms to Mark and Bo’s solicitor, who completed the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 business leases.  To support this ecological and habitat enhancement work, Mark and Bo made their living by selling timber and timber products from the land.

In the full knowledge of the facts surrounding Mark and Bo’s situation, Dan Page of Samuel & Son took on the case considering that there was a just argument in planning policy terms for Mark and Bo to keep their mobile home given the ecological benefits that they were returning to the SSSI woodland and its ancient woodland designations through running their small business.

Subsequently, this evolved into one of the most remarkable and extended planning processes that Samuel & Son have ever been involved with, taking three years to conclude.

After meeting with Mark & Bo, it was initially agreed that the first port of call was to arrange a fresh pre-application advice surgery with the LPA to firstly discuss the failed application, as well as to detail a planning strategy moving forwards having fully understood the reasons for refusal.

A few months later, on behalf of Mark and Bo, Dan Page submitted a comprehensive and compelling retrospective submission to the LPA to retain the modest mobile home for a forester worker on site.

The application received strong local support, as well as support from the Rural Estate Surveyor (one of the LPA’s statutory consultees engaged to independently assess the application), and the Parish Council, on two separate occasions.  Despite this support, the LPA unfortunately chose to once again refuse the application.

Undeterred, and with the firm belief that what the applicants were doing could be justified in planning terms, Dan Page advised the client to challenge the decision and appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Given the magnitude and significance of this case, it was determined that a customary hearing would be an insufficient mechanism to present all the detailed opinions from relevant expert witnesses covering subjects including the complex habitats of glacial streams, bryophyte eco systems, ancient woodland management, coppicing cycles and charcoal production, to name but a few. It was deemed that the more formal Public Inquiry route would be necessary.

After a considerable amount of preparation, a six day Public Inquiry commenced in November 2015 with Matthew Horton QC leading our case.  Dan Page was questioned as an expert planning witness together with other subject specialists representing both sides.   In addition, heartfelt testimonies were also heard from five or six of the landowners, as well as a number of individuals who rely on Mark and Bo Herbert’s occupation of the woodland for their livelihoods, including a bee keeper and an ancient woodland oak extraction specialist.

After a very anxious three and half month wait for our client, the Planning Inspector released his findings in February 2016 which overwhelmingly upheld our appeal.

Indeed, so much so, that the Inspector revised the LPA’s original 2014 decision notice so that the three year licence took effect from the date of his decision rather than from the date of the LPA’s decision to refuse the original application, as would usually be the case.

Dan’s clients were absolutely delighted and incredibly relieved.  They had spent three years in a state of uncertainty and fear of losing their home and livelihood.  The appeal decision meant that both Mark and Bo, together with their four children could continue to live and work this nationally important landscape without the fear of any Council enforcement upon their residence.

“We are immensely grateful to Dan for so skilfully and sensitively guiding as through what has been an absolute nightmare of a process for me and my family, commented Mark.  “Presented with the expert testimony, we were pleased that the Inspector really understood and appreciated the work that we had been doing for little reward other than the satisfaction of seeing the amazing ecological improvements throughout this precious and diverse landscape; unfortunately the Local District Council just could not see the wood for the trees!  A vast amount of work and effort went into this process and there is no way that Bo and I could have done it alone.  Before we took on professional representation, we felt that the planners were just not willing to take us seriously.  However, with Matthew and Dan on board, we most certainly were.”

Mark and Bo Herbert now have the next three years to continue to further their business on site, as well as extend their mobile home in view of another application to the LPA in 2019 for a permanent residence on site.  Much of the hard work has, however, already been done and Samuel & Son are very hopeful that Mark and Bo Herbert and their family may continue to live and work on site long term, helping to preserve this most precious of ecological locations.