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Brighton & Hove council grants bike shed reprieve

U-turn too late for one householder, though – was council’s inflexible stance justified?

Brighton & Hove City Council has given a temporary reprieve to a family who last month received an enforcement letter telling them to take down a bike shed erected in their front garden because it contravened planning regulations.

Initial reports last month were that 21 families in and around Bates Road had been ordered to dismantle bike sheds, with the story even making The Guardian, but now it transpires that just two residents received letters, reports Brighton and Hove News.

One of them, Kieran Barnard, reacted to news of the council putting its application on hold by saying: “We are delighted because we were expecting a red letter from the council any day, so that gives a bit of breathing space.

“We understand the council’s position in a way, because there shouldn’t be a planning free for all, but by this token we want a local development plan to include bike sheds.

“It’s a bit of a shame that it’s taken a public outcry. But what was really nice was all the comments from the public which have been overwhelmingly in favour of the residents.”

The other householder served with an enforcement letter, Tom Atkins, has already taken down his bike shed since he was unable to secure retrospective planning permission.

Conservative Councillor Ann Norman intervened on behalf of residents to try and get the council to change its stance.

She said: “Our discussions with officers have resulted in an agreement for planning officers to explore options to find out how other local authorities deal with similar issues with bike storage and whilst these discussions are taking place, enforcement to remove the two bike sheds mentioned above will be put on hold.”

As Peter Walker noted in a piece on The Guardian Bike Blog last week, Brighton & Hove City Council is the country’s first Green Party-run local authority. He asked the council why it was taking such stringent action against certain households, not others.

In email correspondence with what he described as “a surprisingly hostile press officer,” he was told the council was simply enforcing regulations that apply nationally.

The council official said: “We can categorically state with 100% certainty that no politicians from any party have been involved in initiating any enforcement actions over sheds in front gardens.”

Asking whether the council could not exercise some discretion, the journalist was told that the Town and Country Planning Act permitted no flexibility, with the press officer adding: “We would expect some people to be disappointed that they cannot have a shed in their front garden but it’s unfair to characterise officials as unhelpful.

“This planning authority, like most in the country, is open about its view that sheds in front gardens ruin the street scene and we’re unlikely to help people do that.”

But the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which is responsible for planning at national level, while agreeing that people are not normally permitted to build sheds in their front gardens, added: “Where permitted development rights do not exist a householder can still apply for planning permission.

“Planning guidance tells councils to be supportive of the need for bike storage – provided it is designed in a discreet way that does not harm visual amenity.”

Mr Atkins remains angry about the council’s position, however. He said: “The judgment in our own planning application wasn’t really to do with national legislation, it seemed a personal judgment by the planning officer saying, ‘We think the impact on the street scene outweighs the sustainable transport implications

He went on: “I’m a Guardian reader, I’m pretty well disposed towards the Greens. But this, to me, isn’t a question of political ideology, it’s about competence. If they had any control over the council they were running they would be able to do something about this issue. As it stands they’re washing their hands of it.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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