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It is a pleasure to follow Rachael Maskell.
Instead of looking at the broader policy, I will focus on a specific constituency case. Although planning is generally the key responsibility of the planning authority—in my case, Babergh District Council in South Suffolk—this is an issue for Parliament because it concerns a loophole in retrospective planning that has caused great distress to my constituents Clare and James Frewin of the village of Bures St Mary. I was councillor for Bures St Mary before I became an MP in 2015, and the last planning application that came before me—to which I objected—was an application to build six houses on a former slaughterhouse behind the Frewins’ grade II listed property on a very steep hill in the village of Bures.
As the development has gone on, it has become very clear that these properties, which are built just behind the my constituents’ back garden, are far higher than was given permission for. In fact, in January this year, the developer himself, Mr Steve Dixon of the Stemar Group from Southend, confirmed that there was a height difference of at least 1.7 metres. My constituents then commissioned an independent survey from Randall Surveys LLP, which found that the height difference was in fact 2.6 metres. That is the same as one floor of an entire residential property. Imagine, Mr Speaker, that someone is building a house behind your back garden, where your family enjoy their time, that is almost 3 metres taller than they were given planning permission for.
The key thing is that all we can do in this situation is ask the council to request that the developer seek retrospective planning permission. It is true that in theory the council could put a stop notice on the development, but the problem there is that if the developer gets planning permission, they can sue for any damages resulting from the stop notice. Obviously, therefore, the council is very reluctant to use it.
In this case, the real problem is that the developer in question simply does not give a damn about my constituents. In fact, he has been extremely aggressive with them. He has trespassed on the Frewins’ property. He has told Clare Frewin—this was overheard by another constituent—“If you had as much money as me, you would not live around here,” and he described the village as “scum.” Actually, Bures is a very beautiful village on the Suffolk-Essex borders, so I do not know what this builder from Southend understands by beauty. Imagine being in my constituents’ shoes, Mr Speaker. They have this development behind them that they did not want. They have to accept that it has been approved. It is being built far higher than the builder was given permission for, and he just carries on building it. He ignores all their concerns. He does not engage with the local community but rides roughshod over them.
We in Parliament have not given the district authority the right powers to deal with that, because it can itself be liable to legal action. I would like to see some kind of review of retrospective planning permission, so that where the developer is clearly causing detriment against the public interest, a stop notice can be issued. It could be appealed against, but whether it was upheld or even rejected, the builder would not have the right then to sue the council for damages, because it had acted in the public interest.
This case has caused great dismay in Bures and across South Suffolk. The impression given is that the system is weighted firmly in favour of the developer, who cares not a jot for my constituents. I want a system that better represents my constituents, so that they are not subject to people riding roughshod over them with planning permission they have been legally given. Instead, we should have a system that is weighted fairly between both sides of the argument.