This is the first edition of what will be a regular Collas Crill UK Property Newsletter.  We will keep you up to date with news and best practice to ensure that you are kept abreast of the latest developments in the UK property market.


It's not looking good for the castle disguised as a hay bale!

The Supreme Court has delivered its unanimous judgment that Alan Beesley, who built a barn on green belt land, is not entitled to planning permission for the three bedroom house hidden inside of it.

Mr Beesley obtained planning permission in 2001 to build a barn on green belt land in Hertfordshire. The planning permission was granted on the condition that it was used only for the storage of hay, straw or other agricultural products.

To all external appearances the building resembled the permitted barn with walls in profiled metal sheeting, a roller-shutter door, two smaller doors and eight roof lights. There were no other windows and the barn was surrounded by farmyard machinery. Inside however, instead of hay, straw or agricultural products, were three bedrooms (two of which were en-suite) lounge, kitchen, study, gym and garage.

Mr Beesley moved into the barn in 2002 and remained there for four consecutive years, with the local authority remaining unaware of the building's secret use.  After four years Mr Beesley applied for a certificate of lawfulness.

In England & Wales, you may apply for a certificate of lawfulness if you want to confirm that any existing use or activity in breach of a condition on planning permission that has already been granted is lawful. To obtain a certificate of lawfulness, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that in the case of change of use, the change of use to a single dwelling took place at least four years ago and in the case of breach of planning condition or any other change of use that the breach or change took place more than 10 years ago.

Mr Beesley was therefore looking to rely on the first limb, that the building had changed use from agricultural barn to a dwelling house more than 4 years ago.

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council refused the application and triggered a five year legal battle in the courts which finally came to an end in April this year with the Supreme Court ruling in the Council's favour.

Lord Brown said that: "On any possible view the whole scheme was in the highest degree dishonest and any law-abiding citizen would be not merely shocked by it but astonished to suppose that, once discovered, instead of being enforced against, it would be crowned with success.

"Frankly the dishonesty involved in this case is so far removed from almost anything else that I have ever encountered in this area of the law that it appears to constitute a category all its own."

Lord Brown explained that he said 'almost' because there another case waiting to be resolved. In very similar circumstances, farmer Robert Fidler is fighting to keep a castle that he built secretly and hid behind bales of hay in Salfords, Surrey.

The Supreme Court said the council could, in the Beesley's case, not only order against the continued use of the building but its destruction.


Many properties are connected to the mains drainage system for water and drainage. The responsibility for repairing and maintaining those supplies lies with the utility companies.

However there are a substantial number of properties that connect to the mains system via private pipelines, drains and sewers. Where there is a private drainage system, the cost of repairing and maintaining the pipelines falls onto the property owner. More often than not, more than one property will share the use of the private system and where this is the case, the cost or repairing and maintaining the system is normally shared.

What is the proposed change?

Proposed legislation was placed before parliament at the end of April 2011 which will alter the general position outlined above. 

Under the new regulations, all private sewers and drains which carry waste from more than one property into the public system will be transferred into the ownership of the local utility company unless the owner objects.

Any drains which exclusively serve one property will remain the responsibility of the property owner as will the drains and pipes that form part of the structure of the property itself.

Why the need for change?

The changes stem from a review of the privately held drainage system and subsequent consultation in 2003, which found the private systems to be on a whole in a poor state of repair with urgent action needed to improve the country's water management. 

Many owners are also not aware of their responsibilities where there is a private drainage system and often do not know that they are using a private drain. 

The cost and need to repair shared systems are also often the cause of disputes between neighbours, particularly where the systems run through more than one property.

When will this change take place?

The regulations propose that the transfer will take place on 1st October 2011.  From that date, the utility company will be wholly responsible for the repair and maintenance of the drains.

How will I be affected?

The changes apply to private drainage systems & so the regulations will affect all properties, whether commercial or residential that use such a system.

Of course, there is a cost implication to this process and the cost of bringing the private systems up to the necessary standards will be borne by consumers. The government is currently predicting an increase in the sewerage element of bills across the country of between 7.5 and 23 pence per week.

Is there any way to prevent this from happening?

The regulations do allow for property owners to object to the automatic transfer.  This is likely to only be of interest for developers and owners of estates who must then be able to demonstrate that the automatic transfer will have an adverse impact on their property.

When will I hear more?

Owners and administrators who are based in the Channel Islands will need to pay close attention to updates if they wish to object to the transfer taking place. Utility companies will not be required to serve notice on affected properties and will be obliged only to advertise the transfer in the local newspapers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.