Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Joy of Section 215


My boyfriend's flat is next door to a couple of houses owned by a Housing Authority. These houses are a tip - see photo above, click on it to enlarge. I know it could be a lot worse, (no rusty white goods, for example) but that's not the point; every time I walk past I inwardly fume at the mess, so I decided to find out whether there was anything we could do apart from just writing a letter to the HA which would probably get ignored.

And I discovered section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990:
215. (1) If it appears to the local planning authority that the amenity of a part of their area, or of an adjoining area, is adversely affected by the condition of land in their area, they may serve on the owner and occupier of the land a notice under this section.
(2) The notice shall require such steps for remedying the condition of the land as may be specified in the notice to be taken within such period as may be so specified.
In plain English, this means that owners of eyesores can be served notice by the council to clean up their act, (and prosecuted and fined if they don't comply).

The definition of 'land' in the Act under section 336 'Interpretations' includes buildings - viz. '"land" means any corporeal hereditament including a building' - so it can apply to pretty much anything, from front gardens full of rubbish, to badly maintained buildings that lend a depressing air to a street. Anything with an adverse effect on the amenity of an area.

I don't know whether there's a legal definition of 'amenity', but the dictionary says it's the quality of being pleasant or agreeable, the attractiveness and value of real estate or of a residential structure, and a feature conducive to such attractiveness and value. It's what Belgravia has a lot of.

And what's 'corporeal hereditament'? - it's permanent tangible stuff, basically, but a better definition here.

While I generally disapprove of nose-poking by local government, this law is a heartbreaking work of staggering middle-class genius. Councils should have a dedicated s.215 team to go round the borough serving notices on crappy buildings and land sites. Indeed, there is published guidance for local authorities encouraging them to be pro-active in the serving of such notices, because they are extremely effective (80% compliance upon serving notice), and therefore an easy way to help regenerate an area. Everyone benefits from living in a nicer environment (if you believe in the Broken Windows theory).