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How To Avoid A Lose Lose Planning Situation

Recently in the news we saw the story of Helen Coughlan and Tariq Ahmed, two neighbours fighting over an extension.

Plenty of people in the comments section have taken one side or the other ­– whether they think that the settlement should have been the end of the matter, or the extension should never have been built – but what really sticks out about the case is that both parties lost out.

Ms. Coughlan lost a large amount of money in the value of the house, and lost a significant amount of quality of life. Mr. Ahmed lost a large amount of money paying off his neighbours and had the story taken to a major national newspaper and TV channel.

How could this have been avoided? And how could you avoid similar problems in the future?

A high wall blocks light

A high wall casts shade: Image by Ahmed Rabea

Beware Of The Leopard!

In Douglas Adam's sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, the protagonist discovers that plans to demolish his house have been on display for months – in a cellar with no stairs, in a locked filing cabinet, in an unused lavatory with a sign reading "Beware Of The Leopard".

This sort of thing hopefully doesn't happen too much in real life, but it can feel very similar when your neighbour starts to seek planning permission. It's easy to ignore or misunderstand letters, and sometimes quite difficult to understand information relating to a planning application.

Talk It Through

By getting in touch with your neighbours beforehand when seeking planning permission and starting a conversation about the proposed extension, it's possible that you could clarify plans and work out a solution that works for both parties. This could help you save a lot of money in legal or settlement fees, albeit at the cost of being a bit more accommodating to any requests your neighbour might have.

This would also work well if you're the neighbour who's going to be affected by an extension. Talking through your concerns can help resolve an issue without having to resort to legal proceedings.

The downside of discussing planning permission in this more informal and personal way is that you might inadvertently say something that can later be used against you. Alternatively, if you agree that the extension is fine and then your neighbour later decides that they want to complain about it, you're less likely to have a written record of your agreement.

If you do discuss the application, face to face or by email or letter, make it clear that you are having the discussion without prejudice, so that it won't be used against you.

Legal Eagles

Getting legal advice before beginning the planning permission process is a good idea. Right to light is a particularly complicated area, which has to be sensitive to the commercial and economic need for new development as well as to the availability of light.

As well as a complete understanding of the issues surrounding planning law, your lawyer can inform anyone who might be affected by your new planning application well in advance, and might even be able to make suggestions about the build you have planned.


Effectively, the entire situation could have been made a whole lot less messy with some good communication and good legal advice at an early stage.