Planning & Environment

Bethlehem City Council’s enforcement officer had just been wondering what decoration he was going to put on the top of the office Winterval tree when he got the call. Winterval was a frustrating time: there was never much peace and goodwill about in this festival no one could quite see the point of. So instead of enjoying the time off, neighbours fell out with neighbours and complained to the Council about minor infractions of planning control.

This latest was unauthorised change of use of a livestock barn adjacent to an inn to living accommodation for the inn. Nothing earth-shaking he thought, but nonetheless, he’d better take a look and calm things down before the Council’s Winterval break. He had a chat with the inn owner, who assured him that there was no material change of use – the use of the barn as occasional overflow accommodation for the inn was ancillary to its main use for overwintering livestock, and in any case it formed part of a single planning unit with the inn. The enforcement officer thought a mixed class 7 and agricultural use was somewhat unusual. On the landlord’s account although there was no formal grant of permission, it was well established. Nonetheless, the officer thought he should take a look for himself.

On his way over, he saw shepherds driving sheep to the barn, which seemed to indicate it was in concurrent use for livestock. He wondered whether he should let environmental health know. Just as he was about to go in, he was almost run down by three characters on camels dressed as if they were going to a fancy-dress party. More people seemed to be on their way. Was he dealing with an unauthorised party venue (sui generis use)? As he turned towards the barn, this initial thought was confirmed as a bright light flashed over the peak of the roof – they seemed to have some star arrangement rigged up to attract punters. Given its brightness, he noted he really should mention the possibility of light pollution statutory nuisance to environmental health.

However, on entering the barn he found although it was crowded with both people and livestock, it was  a quiet gathering – attention seemed to be centred on a needy looking couple and their newborn. Turning to one of the  fancy dress characters, he asked for an explanation. The man in mufti muttered something about god and king. The king bit he didn’t believe – and this could hardly be said to be a palace use (sui generis). Plainly some cult was intent on turning this building into a place of worship (class 10).

Still, he thought, they seem a peaceful lot, so what’s the actual impact on amenity? Taking enforcement action is a matter of discretion for the Council.

And after all, it was Winterval.

So he turned a blind eye also to the rooftop gathering of amateur aeronautic musicians and suppressed the thought about whether a CAA licence was needed. And as, in a lighter mood, he set off back to the office, they proclaimed:

“Merry Winterval and a Jolly Solstice to all planners and peace and goodwill to clients and consultants everywhere.”


Planning & Environment