Principal elevation challenged for a 40 year old shed!

27 Feb 2016
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United Kingdom
We own a detached house built in 1929 on an old farm estate. The only access to our house originally led from the south (front) of our house down a shared access lane/drive leading to the left, down to the main road. In the 1950s this driveway was given up and access was then down the farm estate lane, still to the south of our house, but this time to the right (now an unadopted private lane), where we enjoy full access rights. This is all evidenced on Land Registry Title documents.
At some point in later years, the farm track behind our rear boundary (a hedge) was surfaced by the residents who owned the different sections of track (part of their property boundaries) thus extending the private lane behind us. Our house owner at the time cut out a section of hedge and put in a rear pedestrian gate.
When we bought the house in 2008 there were many sheds on our property, most documented on Land Registry Title documents.
One of these sheds to the rear of our property has recently been refurbished by us, as has happened by previous owners.
Following a complaint by one of our not so nice busy body neighbours, our local council is now insisting that we need planning permission for the shed, which seems ludicrous! We have checked the planning/technical guidance and argued that:
1. The shed is over 4 years old.
2. The shed is to the rear of our property, and therefore not in front of the principal elevation.

The council disagree, saying that in their opinion the North elevation is the principal elevation as it is directly facing the main highway (the rear section of our private lane).

We have presented the council with copies of all Land Registry documents clearly showing the original and continued front/main house that is to the south, as well as a statement from our next door neighbour confirming all of the above, who's lived there for many years and whose house was built at the same time as hours and is a mirror image of ours.

Any advice would be appreciated as we are at a loss as to what to do. If we refuse and go to court, what are our chances? Is there any legal process in formally recognising/documenting our principal elevation?

Many thanks, a frustrated house owner in Devon!
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If the shed has been there for longer than 4 years then you are beyond the time limit by which they could prosecute anyway and everything else in your thread is immaterial. Google planning four year rule'.
Depends what 'refurbished' means (you say you have refurbished your shed). If the external structure hasn't changed (coat of paint, repointing, replacing roof covering) then you're fine. If you took the thing down to ground level and rebuilt then it may be considered to be a new structure and then planning might come in to play.
Most of the refurb was internal (insulation etc) plus we replaced the rotten doors and a panel. It wasn't rebuilt.

I just don't understand why the council are pursuing it then...

Aside from this fact, we still need to establish our principal elevation for the future to stop this from happening again.
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As above then- as long as you've got proof that the thing has been there in plain sight for more than 4 years then the council can huff and puff all they like.

As for the principal elevation bit- once the planners admit that the shed is too old for them to do anything about it becomes a moot point until you want to build something else. Of course it could play to your advantage- if they've determined that the back (where the sheds are) is the Principal Elevation then you can have free reign at the front..........

And the council are pursuing it because someone has prodded them into action (the complaining neighbour). At the moment it sounds as if they're just sending letters (or as the Americans would say 'blowing smoke up your a**). As long as your evidence of the thing being 4+ years old is solid then that's all they can do (might be worth getting your neighbour to sign an affidavit regarding what was built when while they're still alive to do so. Shouldn't cost a fortune, talk to a solicitor).

EDIT Just been having a look at PD technical guidance though as usual there's a caveat about 'may not be completely up to date'.

Interesting bit is about how the Principal Elevation is determined- it is the elevation facing the main highway (from which your postcode is derived). From the sound of it your lane is not a highway but owned by the various residents- you need to find out if it has been adopted or not, if not then I don't think it can be considered as being a highway

ANOTHER EDIT- looked further down that doc- is that surfaced lane accessible by the public OR is it PRIVATE?
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In the absence of any other evidence, Google streetview/earth can be useful for establishing how long something's been somewhere.
Thanks for all the responses to this.
It is a private us adopted lane but it does have a postcode. The postcode is the same one for all houses in our lane, and runs from the main road, up passed our entrance, and then to a small cross section where it feeds the other houses, including behind us. It is a dead end.
Yes we looked at the planning portal and other guidance states the principal elevation is that of the original house.
Despite all the evidence (including land registry titles showing the shed as an outbuilding) the council are still insisting on our applying for planning permission though.
We have now referred it to our solicitor, who can really only put up the same argument as ours, but I fear we may end up in court.
how old is the shed?

Always useful if you scan the body of the letter which contains the council's reasoning that the four year rule doesn't apply and post it on here.
I thought you said the shed had been there for longer than four years? In which case THE FOUR YEAR RULE APPLIES. Jeez.

In any case it's extremely unlikely a council would ever take enforcement acting over a shed, it's not really in the public's interest to spend money like this, they cannot take action lightly, they would have to run it past their own solicitors to make sure it was a watertight case, they just want your £172. Employing your own solicitors is bonkers.
The shed is indeed over 4 years old. The council originally emailed to say they'd received a complaint from a neighbour that we'd built a new shed in our front garden.
We did some refurb work to the doors and interior a couple of months ago (which is the time we think this instigated from). You can't see the shed from the lane.
The council have just ignored our explanation that we haven't replaced the shed, and are focus in on the principal elevation principal. Our response was that the shed is over 4 years old, and in any case, the principal elevation of our home is to the south. We attached land registry documents proving the history of the house and shed location since it was built in 1929, including the only access being to the south (until more recent years when a pedestrian gate was put in to give the previous owner a rear pedestrian access).
We referred to the planning legislation on outbuildings over 4 years old, and also the planning portal guidance on principal elevations (in conjunction with out Land Registry evidence), which includes:
"Outbuildings are not permitted development forward of the principal elevation of the original house.
The term original house means the house as it was first built or as it stood on 1 July 1948 (if it was built before that date)."

Still, they've ignored all of this and requested that a planning permission application be made, stating that, in their opinion, the North elevation of our house physically abuts and directly faces onto the main highway, this being determined by the postcode. Still no mention of the age of the shed, and no regard to the evidence produced or the fact that the postcode relates to the entire lane, not just the North section.

Having argued our point, it has got to the stage of telling them that we are not going to apply for planning permission and that should they still pursue the matter their legal team can do so via our solicitor, and that we reserve the right to seek to recover our costs should this matter end up in court.
It is going in. But they're still pursuing it, now with enforcement. Hence my query, just to know I'm case I've missed something, as I can't understand why they're pursuing it! There's no need for sarcasm. Thanks for all your assistance any way.

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