Council officers failed to realise the owner of land at Stedham was living there illegally because they did not do a full inspection, a public inquiry inspector has said.
The inspector, Keith Turner, has overruled a claim by Chichester District Council that Ian Brewer, the owner of the land near Stedham crossroads, deliberately deceived officers so he could live at the site unnoticed for the required minimum of four years to gain immunity from breaking planning laws.
Following evidence given at a four-day public inquiry in November, Mr Turner has quashed enforcement notices demanding Mr Brewer ceases living in the barn and removes domestic fittings and equipment, and stops using the land and barn for the storage and restoration of motor vehicles and motorcycles.
The inquiry heard that a council officer first visited Upper Minsted Heath Barn in October 2008 when he discovered the unauthorised storage and repair of vehicles was taking place. But he did not enter the part of the building which Mr Brewer later claimed he had been living in since 2005 so failed to see its residential use.
In December 2008, when Mr Brewer submitted an application to legalise the use of the barn for vehicles, the council contended an accompanying plan included inaccuracies deliberately to put them ‘off the scent’ in terms of the unlawful residential use.
But the inspector said in his report: “That inaccuracy must be considered in the context that if the council’s officers had inspected the site in 2008 or in 2009 as part of the application, the residential use was existing and there to be seen.
“The appellant stated he did not know, at the outset, that his residential occupation would be unlawful but he did know it was something he should not be doing.
“He conceded he sought to maintain a low profile with his residential use and appears to have succeeded with regard to local residents and the parish council.
“He was not obliged to point out any unauthorised uses to the council’s officers and he does not appear to have impeded their examination of the site in any way. The omission, if any, on those occasions was on the part of the officers in confining their examination to only what had been alleged and not taking a wider view,” the inspector concluded.
The inquiry heard from Mr Brewer that he began living in the barn in August 2005. The claim was backed by his partner and others, including people who attended the first of the annual OnionFests held at the site in 2005 in memory of a young Petersfield woman, Charlotte Jones, who died in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
There was also documentary evidence in support of his claim, including a notice from Royal Mail sometime before November 2005 for mail to be redirected from his former Petersfield address to Upper Minsted Heath Barn.