Garden shed causes planning storm

AN ANGRY homeowner has labelled the district s planning system unfair after his retrospective application for a garden shed was called into committee without any councillors seeing it. Winfried Haag-Lima and his wife Odile, of Moreton End Lane in Harpende

AN ANGRY homeowner has labelled the district's planning system unfair after his retrospective application for a garden shed was called into committee without any councillors seeing it.

Winfried Haag-Lima and his wife Odile, of Moreton End Lane in Harpenden, did not think they needed planning permission for their 3.5 metre by 6.5 metre shed with a small veranda which was put up in their garden in July.

But a council enforcement officer visited the site and told the couple that they needed to submit a retrospective planning application for the 2.8-metre-high shed as a small percentage of the structure fell within five metres of their house and it would require planning permission.

Having submitted their application in August the couple, who are originally from Germany, were bemused to hear that the application would be decided by councillors at a planning committee meeting rather than by the delegated powers of a council planning officer.

Neighbouring properties were sent notices of the application on September 19 but it wasn't until October 9 - the day before the call-in deadline - that Harpenden West district councillor Allen Chamberlain was contacted by a concerned next-door neighbour.

Cllr Chamberlain said he was left with no time to visit the site and could not access the plans due to computer problems so he exercised his power to call it in as a precaution.

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He questioned neighbours about why they hadn't raised the issue sooner but was told that they had just returned fromholiday.

One neighbour also spoke out against the plans at a Harpenden Town Council planning committee meeting in September citing the shed as an intrusion of privacy and councillors recommended refusal.

But Mr and Mrs Haag-Lima, who are both conference interpreters, insist they weren't told that their planning application was up for discussion at the meeting which meant they never got the chance to put their case.

Mr Haag-Lima said: "We are totally disillusioned by the decision-making process here and we have neither trust nor confidence in it.

"We are of the opinion that the 'call-in' and 'recommendation to refuse' of an absolutely top-class timber garden shed, which is situated low in a dip of our back garden, which does not interfere with anybody's privacy and which takes up just six per cent of the overall back garden area, is quite extraordinary."

He also claimed the decision was even more unacceptable as it was made "devoid of any objective knowledge" as the councillors had not seen the shed.

District and town councillor John Chambers, who chaired the town's planning committee, said that he attempted to visit the site before the meeting without success and he thought other councillors would have also made attempts to view it.

Among the reasons why town councillors were recommending refusal was that the shed was an "inappropriate form of backland development" which would intrude on the privacy of neighbours and block their daylight.

Cllr Chambers also chairs the district council plans committee which will determine the application on Monday. It has been recommended for approval by a planning officer on Monday.

Cllr Chambers said that all of the councillors on the committee would be visiting the site ahead of the meeting.

He said: "I am quite happy it has been called in and is going to Plans North on Monday because both parties will have the opportunity to speak for and against it."

He added that it was democracy in the working and emphasised that if the planning application is correct it will be granted.

Mr Haag-Lima said the officers report was an "objective and unexcitable" assessment of the situation and added: "The Government has decided that the planning processes should be streamlined and be made more efficient by taking some 80 000 applications out of the system. Against this background, it seems an appalling waste of public money, as well as a frivolous waste of planning officers' time to drag our particular application in to committee.