Letter: Planning bypassed

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Sir: I would like to comment further on the issue of "permitted development rights" referred to by P Jenkyns (letter, 7 January) and raised by Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, in Parliament on 16 December.

A company which enjoys permitted development rights is exempt from the usual planning regulations. In the debate, Nick Raynsford, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, justified this situation by saying, "It would be in nobody's interest to require the submission of a planning application every time development was proposed, no matter how small or insignificant." Surely, the answer then is to limit permitted development rights to small and insignificant matters?

Permitted development rights also give a company immunity from prosecution under normal environmental health law. Should not this immunity be restricted to occasional, temporary situations such a short-term repair work, rather than allowing permanent ongoing noise nuisance like that generated by Railtrack's "virtual quarry" in Oxford?

There is also the question of compensation. Permitted development rights can be withdrawn in exceptional circumstances by issuing an article 4 direction, which then has to be upheld by the Secretary of State. If an article 4 direction is successful, then the development has to go through the normal planning procedure. This would appear to be a "safety net", ensuring that totally unsuitable and damaging developments can be stopped. However, if planning permission is refused, the company can claim compensation because it has been "deprived of the rights that would normally be enjoyed". This means that issuing an article 4 direction is not a financially viable option. Is it right that a company should be compensated for having to withdraw an unacceptable development which should never have been proposed in the first place?

Permitted development rights need to be much more narrowly defined.