St Albans mother of newborn baby in council row over planning permission

Hillary Childs outside her property in Cavendish Road.

Hillary Childs outside her property in Cavendish Road. - Credit: Archant

A St Albans mother with a two-week-old baby had to digest the news that planning permission, which had already been verbally granted, was done so in error.

Hillary Childs' dream house conversion has turned into a nightmare due to apparent council malpractice.

The 43-year-old wanted to transform her terraced property in Cavendish Road by demolishing an old extension to the rear of the property, replacing it with a bright and airy orangery-style kitchen and upstairs extension for a new bathroom.

But things went drastically wrong just before the birth of her second child, after a visit from a planning officer from the district council's planning department.

The officer carried out a full inspection of the property, before telling Hillary he was going to recommend approval for her plans, and she could expect to receive written confirmation in a matter of weeks.

Overjoyed with the news, she instructed her builders to begin internal work, including relocating a staircase and bedroom, and ordered panes of glass for the orangery.

Hillary said: "The officer said, after meeting us, that he was completely happy with the plans and agreed that the extension was totally fine and we were good to go.

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"I spoke to my builder and we decided to put the staircase in as this would mean that we were ready to start when we got written approval."

But when the deadline had passed for the written confirmation, and after chasing for a response, she received an unexpected phone call from the planning department.

They informed her that the officer had been pulled off her case and the application would have to be considered from scratch.

Unfortunately the second inspection yielded a completely different result, with officers deciding to reject the plans because of concerns about light being cut off for a neighbouring property, leaving Hillary thousands of pounds out of pocket because of the work already carried out.

She said: "Now this has been rejected, they have suggested I flip the whole layout of the original house around, or go into the loft, losing one bedroom of a two-bed house. The council actually agreed neither of these options were fair to me, but when I asked for further input, this was all they could suggest."

Now Hillary wants compensation from the district council because of the perceived professional negligence of their employee, and an apology for the distress it has caused immediately following the birth of her new daughter.

"I'm furious that I was misinformed from the outset and now left with a house with nowhere to put a bathroom," she said. "I can't understand how this can happen and I'm sure I'm not the only one affected."

The correct process is that after a site visit and full assessment of the proposal - including consideration of neighbour comments and consultee responses - all case officers write a report making a recommendation.

This recommendation is then considered by a senior officer or a planning committee who makes the decision.

In a letter clarifying the situation, the planning department's development manager said: "When giving any advice, an officer should make this clear and I apologise that this has not happened in this case."

Head of planning for St Albans council Tracy Harvey said: "I can confirm that we've recently received a complaint about how a particular planning application was handled. We are carrying out an investigation before responding formally.

"The application was for a two-storey extension in place of an existing one-storey one.

"It was refused late last month (January) after an objection was received on the grounds of the adverse impact it would have on an adjoining house.

"There is little else I can say while the inquiry is underway except that anyone who starts building work before an application is granted does so at their own risk."