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Councils criticised for sending out mixed messages over bike sheds

People are being encouraged to cycle – but building somewhere to store bikes may lead to planning problems

Councils in England are being accused of sending mixed messages over bike sheds, encouraging people to switch to active travel including cycling while retaining planning rules that in many cases prevent people from building somewhere to store their bicycles securely.

As we reported earlier this month, a family from Leicester were told by council officers that they could face enforcement action over a cycle shed they had put up in their front garden, partly because they live in a conservation area and it was deemed not to be in keeping with the street’s Victorian character – even though several neighbours had paved over their front gardens to provide parking spaces for their cars.

Pictures posted to Facebook (above) also showed parked cars outside houses in the street, again hardly reinforcing its Victorian credentials.

The council’s planning committee eventually granted the householder, Kavi Pujara, planning permission for the shed, made of sustainable timber and with a green roof, after the city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said on Twitter that planning officers had “got it wrong.”

> Shedgate: Victory for family as bike shed application approved

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Pujara said, “We didn't set out to set a precedent on this issue but I hope other cyclists can soon apply for planning for convenient, secure cycle storage” – however, the report goes on to say that cyclists elsewhere are facing similar difficulties.

It cited the case of James Whittingham, who lives in the London Borough of Haringey which says it “very much encourages cycling,” but sent him an enforcement letter over a bike shed he had installed in his front garden.

He had applied for a space in one of the borough’s on-street bike hangars, but he said: “They told us we are not a priority as we have a front garden and therefore have the option for our own storage, yet we are now being asked to take it down. It's totally mixed messaging that makes no sense.”

He pointed out to the council that in the area he lives in, there are more than 100 bike sheds, most of which have not had planning permission, and sent through photos in support, “highlighting that they should be encouraging cycling. Not discouraging it.”

The council told the BBC that after receiving a complaint regarding a bike shed in a conservation are, it had “a duty to send our enforcement officers to investigate.”

Since April, households in Scotland have been able to erect bike sheds up to 1.5 metres in height without needing planning permission, but some councils in England are classifying them as outbuildings, which under national rules cannot be erected in front of a dwelling.

People receiving enforcement letters regarding bike sheds built without planning permission are required to remove them within 21 days or face a fine which could run to £20,000.

But Duncan Dollimore, campaigns manager at the charity Cycling UK, said that councils have powers to authorise bike sheds without householders having to apply for planning permission.

“It lies within their gift to use what are called local development orders, which grant planning permission for specific types of development, and they could do that for cycle sheds,” he explained.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, acknowledged that efforts were being made to promote active travel and get more people cycling, but added that the planning system aimed to ensure that “all developments are suitable and appropriate for their environment.”

However, Dollimore pointed out that strict interpretation of planning rules was often in conflict with a local authority’s own encouragement of walking and cycling.

“We have active travel teams saying we need more people cycling. Then in the planning department we have a situation that restricts active travel,” he said.

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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