We always thought our relationship with our neighbours was good; we had always been doing everything we possibly could to sort out any potential problems, including paying for new fences or trimming trees that wasn’t really our responsibility. This all changed when our neighbours submitted a planning permission for their house, but refused to compromise on what they wanted – despite it breaking several strict rules by a considerable margin.
We had some extension work done ourselves just before all this happened. However just prior to submitting our planning permission to the planning department of the local council, we informed our immediate neighbours our intention and plan, pleasantly, everyone was supportive as this plan didn’t affect anyone in anyway. However, when our next door neighbour submitted their planning application for some building work, we were completely in the dark, until we were informed by the council. Straight away, we felt a bit uncomfortable as they didn’t return the courtesy of tell us what they were planning.
We contacted them to say that we had been notified by the council about to their planning application. However, due to the position and orientation of our house in relation to theirs, from our point of view, their proposed building work would block out all sunlight in our garden. Since ours is a south facing garden it would have quite a big impact. We asked whether they would come around for a glass of wine to talk about a compromise so that they could get their planning passed but with a lesser detrimental effect to our property. The reply from the husband of the neighbours was ‘No, I am an architect, I know it breaks the rules but I fully intend to “play the system”’. We had no choice but to reply, ‘with great regret, we have to object to the application, as the current plan will affect our properly greatly.’ The neighbours immediately kicked up a fuss, as we were no longer just saying ‘yes’ without question. Naturally, we were very disappointed by their reaction, giving what we had done in the past and this was the one and only time that we asked for a compromise solution instead of of doing it their way.
With the mixed bag of emotions, we personally went through the local council’s planning guidelines, and highlighted the sections that indicated where our neighbours’ application was breaking the rules (by more than 3 metres). In the meantime, we consulted a planning barrister and a property barrister for advice as where we stood legally. The advice we took away from both barristers are: 1) that we have to be reasonable during the whole process, regardless of personal feelings; 2) that we should outline our objection rationally, and quote the guidelines as clearly as we could to support our arguments; 3) we cannot simply say ‘we don’t like it’, rather, we have to state why this application is not acceptable based on guidelines and law; 4) we have to keep our points precise and relevant, and not go into any personal details which have no bearing in the application, only the points for the planning officer to consider; 5) finally, the planning barrister advised us on planning related law, and the properly barrister advised us the properly related law, which we can use to support our arguments.
We took the advice from the barristers, then drafted a formal objection which outlined all of the rules the neighbour’s planning application broke. The planning objection was strong and reasonable. Our two barristers read the objection – both considered it to be clear and reasonable. The planning officer rejected their planning as a result of a clear, precise and well reasoned objection.
What we learnt from this experience is that 1) being nice and reasonable doesn’t mean you should compromise your own principles or benefits to please others; 2) ask for help from professional experts when you feel you need to; 3) take your emotions out of the equation when you outline your position, and only deal with the points which are relevant to your case.
Written by: A direct access client.