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A view to a kill, subject to planning permission
Does a lack of Local Plan put us at risk of international super criminals, or worse, local developers?
It has become a frequent refrain on Ed’s Medway housing pieces that people are building properties in Medway that are either not as planned or are adapted unchallenged from the original build. There is also the ongoing debacle of the Local Plan, or more accurately, the lack of one. This is a situation that creates - as Medway Council Leader Alan Jarrett said exclusively to this newsletter - a situation where only the developer wins.
These situations naturally lead me to ask the question: Could a Bond-level villain build their evil lair in Medway?
When designing a lair, secrecy and immersion in nature are essential. Scaramanga’s secret island compound, Blofeld’s volcano fortress, underwater Atlantis. They resonate with master criminals and film fans alike. Lairs can also be hidden in caves, or under Grand Central Station, as Lex Luthor did in 1978’s ‘Superman’. It is important to be able to harness power and engage with the land around you, whilst reflecting inner corruption with nice amenities.
Medway’s Local Plan, which was needed to come into force in
2006 2011 2019, to replace the existing Local Plan. This plan would have covered Medway up to 2037. Medway’s 2035 regeneration document, to create a waterfront university city listed Kingsnorth on the peninsula as a key regeneration site. What better place to build a discreet criminal lair, while still being well connected to the facilities of Medway?
All land and property in which Medway Council has a legal interest is recorded and maintained. The Local Government Transparency Code 2015 requires local authorities to publish details of land and building assets.
According to their website, as a local planning authority, Medway Council is required by the National Planning Policy Framework, to prepare Strategic Land Availability Assessments to show the availability of potential development sites. The latest was published in December 2019.
The report identified 228 sites which were deemed to be suitable, available and achievable for development. In what is most probably a misreading of the information, there is 140,500 sqm which will be available in the 2024-2029 period, with 190 hectares becoming available for ‘business use’, at the former Kingsnorth Power Station. This site is close to the water on the Thames Estuary and has great access to London and the continent.
As Medway Council’s website helpfully makes clear, ‘it is important to check if you need planning permission before starting a development’. They have a duty to keep a register of people or associations seeking land for custom builds. The register provides useful information on the level of demand for self-build, as well as a database for His Majesty’s Secret Service to monitor lair building.
With regard to use, the law puts uses of land and buildings into various categories. ‘Change of use’ can occur within the same use class or from one use class to another:
Class B: General industrial or storage/distribution.
Class C: Hotels, residential institutions, dwellings.
Class E: Commercial, business and service.
Class F: Local community and learning.
For our lair, we would be needing some change of use within Class B to General industry, and additional Class C use to include secure residential and some dwellings. Though it is worth noting that Class B excludes any ‘incineration or hazardous waste’…
Generally, if it is proposed to change from one use to another, you will need planning permission. Most external work is also likely to require planning permission. Generally, planning is not needed when staying in the same class. However, if building work is associated with the proposed change of use, planning permission may be required. Some associated building work can be covered within ‘permitted development’ rights.
It’s a minefield, especially if you are considering building a minefield. Which, to be clear, you wouldn’t get planning permission for.
If you want proof that your change of use is lawful, you can apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. You can apply for this from the local council, though you will have to pay a fee, of course.
Where a development comprises a ‘mixed use’, there are specific permitted development rights. Proposals should always be checked with the local authority before starting work. When adding dwellings or secure residential areas, you need to consider transport, flooding risks, impacts of noise, provision of adequate natural light, health care services and, of course, fire safety - an important consideration should ‘international people of mystery’ try and blow it up.
When planning a lair, it is important to find competent and willing trade professionals. I won’t go much further on this other than to consider the salient points made in this piece of avant-garde cinema by director Kevin Smith:
For the purpose of this hypothetical, we will assume that our Lex Luthoresque villain has the finances in place, and won’t be requiring mortgages or other financial services.
Converting an existing basement into a cell or ‘living space’ is, in most cases, unlikely to require planning permission, as long as it does not alter the external appearance of the property. Excavating which involves major works, new separate accommodations, or alters the appearance in any way, will require planning permission. In all circumstances, you are advised to contact your local planning authority for guidance on local policy.
Permission or ‘prior approval’ may be required to demolish a building. Retrospective planning permission should super agents blow something up, is - at best - a legal grey area. Depending on the type and size, and where it is located, an application for full planning permission is required to demolish any building that has been rendered unsafe or uninhabitable. When demolition is permitted, it does not automatically follow that you will get planning permission to build any replacement structure or change of use.
You will not need to apply for planning permission if you wish to erect a new or improve an existing fence, wall or gate. No boundary can exceed two metres in height from ground level, or if an existing fence exceeds two metres, this will not be increased. Electrified razor wire is not covered under local planning, presumably because even your average spy has tools to easily cut through this protective measure.
Installing a fuel tank is considered permitted development, subject to conditions. Not more than 3,500 litres capacity, with a maximum height of three metres, and not at the side of buildings on designated land. This includes liquid petroleum gas tanks, as well as oil storage tanks.
A small-scale hydro-electricity scheme would create potential impacts on landscape, nature conservation and the water system, so some form of environmental assessment is essential. Under the Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1988, anything likely to have a significant impact on the environment must be accompanied by an Environmental Statement. Typically covering flora, fauna, noise, archaeology, air and water quality, it should also be noted the water is not owned by the landowner and so the Environment Agency must be consulted for a water extraction licence. And if you thought MI6 were tough, you haven’t dealt with the Environment Agency.
Before you buy an antenna to contact the leaders of the world with your ransom demands, check whether you need planning permission. Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, you have ‘general permission’ to install antennas, as long as they aren’t too many or too high. Any work which does not meet these requirements will require planning permission.
The removal of soils is common practice with construction, as existing site ground levels may need to be reduced or changed to meet the new design. This material is defined as ‘waste’, even if you have an intention to use the soil elsewhere, to give the place that “built into a volcano look”. A review of where the waste comes from or has the potential to be contaminated will need to be completed.
When disposing of waste soil, you have a legal duty to dispose of the waste, with specific permits for all inert, non-hazardous, and hazardous waste. It must be transported by a company with a valid waste carrier licence. A waste transfer note must be produced for each load of material imported to a site. Unlike other ‘waste’, the government won’t approve of you just dumping it into the sea.
Most importantly, if you are setting up a home office, then it should be both functional and comfortable. Consider if there’s enough natural light, as well as internet and a telephone line. You can opt to add an outbuilding to create a garden office. The key test to whether you need planning permission is if the overall character of the dwelling will change. Is it still mainly a home, or has it become business premises? The key question for any international mastermind.
As such, it’s a good idea to meet or speak to a planning officer. For legal reasons, we cannot advise on bribing officials to get your more extreme ideas through the process. However, it is important to understand how planning policies may affect your proposal, so identify specialist advice to confirm if proposals are acceptable.
Also, a quick word on armed guards, or ‘private military companies’ to go by their contemporary moniker. They may serve as security guards, provided they are not proactively employed in front-line combat, and they are not mercenaries. Since 2004, the British state has spent approximately £50m annually on mercenary companies. So you’d think you would be in good company, but you want to operate in the UK, which rules this option out.
Private security cannot carry guns or be armed in the UK. There is no central database of private military and security companies in the UK, and no legal requirement to register with a governing or regulatory body. There are 235 UK-registered military and security companies registered with Companies House offering higher-level security work. There is a systemic lack of transparency for what is a significant source of employment for ex-special forces personnel. There is no licensing system or permission process in UK law for a UK citizen who intends to act as a mercenary to follow. So really it’s a managerial decision. How important is it for you to have armed guards when you intend to dispatch your nemesis with a laser? A BAE representative is standing by to take your call.
As a major development, once your application is validated, a planning officer will contact you. Do not necessarily “release the hounds”. You will be expected to arrange a pre-application consultation, arrange a presentation to local ward councillors, so make sure you have your ‘Section 106’ contributions ready to promise but not deliver on. There will also be fees, including a per-hour charge for the officer to follow up. To be clear, these are legitimate invoices, not under-the-table envelopes.
After the application, you’ll have around 13 weeks for any decision to be made, assuming there are no unforeseen delays. If the application is refused, you can appeal the decision. Medway Council’s lack of a Local Plan means - as Cllr Jarret stated - Medway is largely defenceless against speculative planning applications.
So if your villain lair is important to you, don’t take that first rejection as the end of the project.
That dream secret bunker could still be yours.
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Steven Keevil is a former educator turned former frozen food data analyst. He is currently recuperating from trying to work out which elements Ed will and will not subeditor out of his pieces. He was a co-founder of The Political Medway, and still manages to watch hundreds of films a year. He highly recommends The Sparks Brothers.
Steven listened to no music whilst writing this, but recommends the following books that he has finished recently: Call for the Dead, by John le Carre, Stop Reading the News, by Rolf Dobelli, and Kabuki, by David Mack.