LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

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LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Lord Summerisle » 28 Sep 2018 10:17

Just wanted to share the experience my partner and I have had with Lewisham Council, their planning department and their abject failure to help and protect us over 5 years. I shall try and make this brief and write in the hope that others might be more prepared if ever dealing with them and also out of hope that someone might have some advice / counsel we’ve not yet conceived.

Basically, we live in a 3 bed Maisonette (Kent House Road) with a nice garden. We own it (with leasehold for 125 years) and freeholder owns abandoned shop unit below. We love our home despite the difficulties. The one exception is that freeholder has shared use of the inner corridor leading up to our door and before we moved in he installed a door there which we found out later was without planning. Long story short for 5 years he’s installed tenants in a slum flat where the old shop used to be and despite the council knowing about this and investigating, he has never ceased. The council say they have been too under resourced as do the Sydenham Police and safer neighbourhood folk. He’s been summoned to court for this twice and has not turned up twice. Police say they’ve not the resource to go looking for him. There was another court date which he asked to be adjourned and this was agreed!! Another date awaits. This has dragged on for over 5 years, in this time his tenants have left the front door open at night 3 times, gouged and splintered the door when forgetting their keys and slam the door all night. There are several more inconveniences I won’t bore you with

The freeholder then put in planning to excavate the hard-standing outside of the building as part of his planning for 2 flats. This has been refused and refused again on appeal twice!! So, he goes ahead anyway. Council come down ask him to stop, he does not and they say they can’t stop him but may serve a notice to put it all back ‘if they think expedient’ when he’s finished it. If it's not expedient after flagrantly breaking the law then what is? We now have a giant pit outside our front door, the approach to our door is wooden planks over a 4 metre drop

We are in utter despair, has it come to the stage where the state simply cannot protect tour rights and therefore bullies and dangerous cowboys can run riot? The flat below us has never had a fire inspection, endangering us and two kids, the tenants never vetted, he’s cut off our electricity doing his work twice, spoiling our food and cut off our water supply as we were showering. When confronted he gets angry and cannot take criticism of any kind. Over these years his workmen have also blocked our drains, covered our garden in glass and broken our front door lock. Lewisham planning have been incredibly unhelpful with the exception of one guy whose boss has now stopped him communicating with me, Police likewise ineffectual.

Anyone ever experienced anything like this, know of a way to stop these episodes that have impacted our mental health, that is without simply selling up which we do not want and should not have to do?
Lord Summerisle
 
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby rustya » 28 Sep 2018 10:40

How awful.
I have deep sympathy for you with this.
You should involve the local M.P.
Seems to me that the people you spoke to are just pen pushers.
Get the M.P involved.
Action should happen.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby JRW » 28 Sep 2018 11:03

I strongly advise you to make a new request to planning enforcement. There is a new sheriff in town, and they are taking enforcement seriously at last. Best of luck; I really feel for you, and having seen the outrageous planning applications, I know you are downplaying things, if anything. Feel free to pm me for names to contact.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Newtosydenham » 28 Sep 2018 11:28

I really feel for you.
Have you sought any legal advice about taking the Freeholder to a First Tier Tribunal? Might be worth researching.
I’m also not sure how relevant it is but what about the housing Ombudsman? Might be worth making a complaint with them if it’s the type of thing they deal with. https://www.housing-ombudsman.org.uk

Good luck
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Lord Summerisle » 28 Sep 2018 12:11

A huge thanks for the replies here, it actually feels good just to air this and know we're not in an echo chamber here. Your advice is all positive and I've already written to the local councillor. As things stand it all feels very helpless and all the advice you've given sounds worthwhile.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby mosy » 28 Sep 2018 12:58

Is it possible that the activities in some way breach your lease with the freeholder and if so whether any remedy is possible? If what is being done is illegal rather than a civil breach it probably can't be ignored by the errant and elusive party.

The trick will be to find which of the arrows in your quiver will hit the mark effectively, which a knowledgeable solicitor ought to be able to identify, or at least be able to tell you which arrows will miss. Good luck.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby syd-gal » 28 Sep 2018 15:51

Would it be worth contacting the 'new' mayor. I've heard he is quite approachable.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby John H » 28 Sep 2018 18:32

mosy wrote:Is it possible that the activities in some way breach your lease with the freeholder and if so whether any remedy is possible? If what is being done is illegal rather than a civil breach it probably can't be ignored by the errant and elusive party.

The trick will be to find which of the arrows in your quiver will hit the mark effectively, which a knowledgeable solicitor ought to be able to identify, or at least be able to tell you which arrows will miss. Good luck.


It is very expensive to go to court. This is an area where the Local Authority has a statutory duty to intervene and not only on planning enforcement. Health and Safety issues clearly arise. If the entrance to the flat is obstructed then I am pretty certain that is a criminal offence..

Lame excuses from the Police who indeed should have intervened. HOWEVER... this does show how ill-advised it is to purchase a flat over a shop.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Sydenham » 28 Sep 2018 21:27

What about some initial advice from a solicitor who could advise on options either against council or the freeholder? It might cost you a little initially but better than acting on hearsay.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby mosy » 28 Sep 2018 23:12

Sydenham wrote:What about some initial advice from a solicitor who could advise on options either against council or the freeholder? It might cost you a little initially but better than acting on hearsay.

My thought exactly.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby John H » 28 Sep 2018 23:21

Sydenham wrote:What about some initial advice from a solicitor who could advise on options either against council or the freeholder? It might cost you a little initially but better than acting on hearsay.


Point out any hearsay. I thought we heard from the person concerned.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby mosy » 29 Sep 2018 16:24

John H, the situation here apparently is that the people who should be doing something aren't doing even the things they're legally obliged to do, hence what's the next step? You say what authorities should be doing but it doesn't help if they're not fulfilling their duty.

I was told years ago that the trick in such cases was to find the person who knows and ask them. I've said in this case that it's likely to be a knowledgable solicitor who knows what steps could be taken to expect a result and knows what steps would fall on stony ground, whether in terms of leaseholder/downstairs landlord or authorities failing to act effectively. Meanwhile, I see nothing wrong with a broad brush approach or scatter attack as who knows if one might be successful?
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby John H » 30 Sep 2018 09:00

but nothing there about hearsay.

The planners use the excuse of funding to take no action. It costs no more for a planner to be out and about rather than sitting on a sticky seat in the office. The very least they can do is turn up and then deliver a letter.

Forget asking your local councillor to do something. They respond "I am only a councillor" and in Lewisham their excuse means something. Councillors have absolutely no power to do anything. We live in a despotic dictatorship where ONE MAN has absolute power.

Bullock has gone and no-one has heard a peep from his replacement. That is the danger of the mayoral system. It is entirely unaccountable, especially in a one party State such as Lewisham.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby mosy » 30 Sep 2018 21:40

John H. I read Sydenham's mention of hearsay as being about suggestions from people on here saying Try this or this", (he'll no doubt correct me if wrong), but I don't know why you want to labour the point.

You use a lot of words to express that no-one in authority is likely to do anything. With respect, that's surely why the OP Lord Summerisle wrote his post in the first place.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby JRW » 24 Oct 2018 13:04

Hi Lord Summerisle,

I was horrified to see your current living conditions, and.the way the shopowner is carrying on digging regardless of the law. Are the councillors being helpful? Ditto planning? Let us all know if you need help with anything, as we simply cannot allow this kind of thing to be tolerated.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby bensonby » 24 Oct 2018 18:05

John H wrote:Lame excuses from the Police who indeed should have intervened. HOWEVER... this does show how ill-advised it is to purchase a flat over a shop.


What should the police have done? I can’t see anything in the original post that is a police matter save, possibly, a dubious criminal damage of a scratched door. This is squarely a planning (council) matter.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Lord Summerisle » 8 Nov 2018 15:15

JRW wrote:Hi Lord Summerisle,

I was horrified to see your current living conditions, and.the way the shopowner is carrying on digging regardless of the law. Are the councillors being helpful? Ditto planning? Let us all know if you need help with anything, as we simply cannot allow this kind of thing to be tolerated.


Just wanted to say a big thank-you JRW to you and indeed all those on this forum who've been so kind. I thought I'd also update you on what is turning into a living nightmare, I think this is accurate despite sounding melodramatic.

Since I posted initially the freeholder has erected a huge semi-permanent awning which is directly under our living room windows. Again, this is illegal and has no planning, again we asked for it to be removed and were ignored. Basically anyone with a ladder can now be at our windows in seconds. He and his workmen now stroll along this with full view into our home.
Here’s the worst part, as his excavations have increased, we’ve now got serious large cracks across multiple parts of our living room, directly above the excavation, and this is also the case in the bedrooms upstairs. When we confronted him he told us it was ‘the building settling’ and we had nothing to worry about. Eventually he said he would have his structural engineer look at it and he would repair it when he’s finished his works!!! We obviously told him he would never be entering our home and that we would appoint an independent engineer / surveyor to assess damage (which we’re worried is going to be huge). As well as this, the movement of the building has caused our main front door to be barely closable, taking huge effort to open and even more to close. He fixed this once and it’s now back to the same state which kings shows the amount of movement in the building and the damage he’s causing.

So, we told the council and pointed out their decision allowing him to continue had directly resulted in the subsequent cracks. They then said they would no longer correspond with me and to take it up with buildings control. Buildings control unfortunately do not want to know as they say there’s no direct threat to the public walking by. We then decided we must inform the building insurers of everything and get the claim going. However, the freeholder holds the policy for which we pay him yearly. I then contacted the broker and it transpires he has not put our name on the policy (I realise we should have checked this and its bloody naïve) and he will not allow the insurance company to accept a claim from us. He then stated he would not let me have the policy detail and will not let us claim as he will repair when he’s ready. This seems fraudulent to me.
We obviously need a solicitor and have engaged one, we have little savings due to a recent bereavement resulting in funeral costs (sorry not trying to elicit sympathy just stating facts) but we will find the money somehow. We now need to narrow down what we ask them to do though as the more you ask the more expensive it becomes. His being in breach of the lease in a must. We do however feel close to nervous breakdown. We just want to be left alone to live our lives and be decent to others. If anyone knows of a good and very cheap surveyor for this type of thing please do let me know.

To conclude here’s a list of what he’s done over the last 5 years, all of which, the council, police and even Highways standards have been unable to provide one iota of help:

Significant structural damage to our walls and subsequent wallpaper, decoration.
Cut our electricity
Cut our water supply
Allowed multiple strangers and illegal tenants access to our hallway
Broken our door
Excavated hard standing outside our home illegally
Erected a permanent awning providing easy access to our windows and endangering our safety
Illegal earnings from years on illegal flat
Dug up our water pipes leaving them exposed
Refused us access to our buildings insurance despite our paying him for it
Broken pavement outside our home.

Sorry for the long winded moan but I hope you can all understand that we’re at such a low ebb that any support and help suggested can only be positive.

Thanks.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby Howard Staunton » 8 Nov 2018 16:26

Sorry to read about this dreadful situation. An earlier poster mentioned contacting your MP. Have you done that? If you are where I think you are on Kent House Road your MP is Ellie Reeves. I have not had any contact with her myself, but she is a friend of a work colleague of mine and he speaks very highly of her. It is sometimes quite surprising how much influence an MP can have, particularly with local officialdom, once they take up a case. You can get her contact details here:

https://www.parliament.uk/biographies/c ... eeves/4620

Good Luck.
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby mosy » 8 Nov 2018 22:53

Words fail me about these misdoings and the distress it's causing to you.

Any building society or estate agent used to have names of structural engineers they're prepared to suggest, which is a sort of recommendation. At least they used to have so don't know if they still do.

You don't mention having contacted your own building society if you have a mortgage, although whether you should contact them is something I'd ask your solicitor.

Re solicitors. Have you checked your credit cards as some have perks including free legal advice. I recall one agreement I had which oddly included it but I can't remember which one unfortunately.

Some free solicitors also come up f you search Google for "free legal advice solicitors", e.g.
https://www.google.com/search?q=free+le ... refox-b-ab

Although they might be just Q&A rather than taking "a case", with your list of misdoings, even one call might result in being a step forward. If free, you could call them all to see if the answers are broadly in alignment.

1) Asking which is the priority item(s) to focus on?
Maybe what are considered lesser items might be resolved in the wake of or by virtue of a priority one if won.

(That should save you money by knowing what you will instruct your paid solicitor to do.)

2) Is this catalogue of injustices within legal aid parameters?
Stressing the complete lack by local authority bodies to intervene and even fail in their duty of enforcement where applicable.

3) If there a priority item(s), who is it best to go after? Local authority or leaseholder?
Stressing that the leaseholder has apparently successfully deflected all attempts from any who've tried to make headway on any front so far.
---

CAB ? I used them once re a particular question. It took me several weeks to get an appointment but it was worthwhile. You could make one immediately even though exploring other avenues at the same time.

Age UK? If you are over 50 you could try Age UK, although whether they are geared up re property disputes I don't know.

The above is just my brain thinking "where to start - from here?" to make sense of it all and create at least some sort of coherent forward plan otherwise the danger is that minor details up to now would keep going round and round in my head getting me nowhere. However, the more the obstacles the more determined one becomes to make the issue a resolvable one.

Another plan would be using the helpless damsel approach, which is really what pretty much everyone is in matters like these. Depends how your brain (not mine) works.
---

On a personal note I'm very sorry to hear that've you've had a bereavement.and sincere condolences. A recent one left me not wanting to think, or being incapable of thinking, about almost anything. *hug*
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Re: LEWISHAM COUNCIL PLANNING ENFORCEMENT DESPAIR

Postby JRW » 8 Nov 2018 23:03

Notify the councillors that this must be put on the list of planning disasters that will be discussed at the Sydenham Assembly on 1 December. The Mayor is coming for a Question Time session, so also notify him of your intention to ask him about your case. Copy it to Ellie Reeves!

Do also try Patrick O'Connor, Head of Planning Enforcement. Brushing you off to building regs is nuts; the point is not the quality of the work, but the fact they are proceeding with a development which has been rejected by planning. Dial down the stuff about the cracks, and push the point that the freeholder is flouting their rules, and making the planning department a laughing stock. Given the number of heinous planning situations locally, they need to avoid being put into special measures.

Good luck!
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