Friday, 21 Jun 2024

Council forces man to tear down decking after using Google Earth to catch him

A homeowner has been ordered to tear down his decking and an extension after his local council caught him out using Google images.

Colin Thomas, 65, hoped to use loophole planning laws to keep the two new structures at the front and back of his house in Portland, Dorset.

Mr Thomas applied to Dorset Council for permission to make both structures lawful under a rule recognising any property changes which have been in place for four years.

The raised decking at the front of his home, measuring 20ft by 16ft, was said to be built soon after he bought the home in 2012.

He was backed by his builder as well as friends who had visited the terraced house over the past decade.

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Planning officer Thomas Wild looked up the property on Google Earth and Street View where he found the current decking and rear extension were not there in satellite photos as recently as September 2020.

He concluded that the two new additions to the home were built between then and June 2022.

Mr Wild added: “Therefore it has been present for less than four years and has not achieved immunity from enforcement action on that basis.”

He also told how a raised deck at the front was there in Google photos from 2016 and 2021 – but different decking from the one he has today.

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He added that the original decking was made from timber but the current structure is made from composite boards, topped with artifical grass – and the replacement is larger than the original.

He added: “Although it is accepted that by around 2016 the original timber decking had become immune from enforcement action, that immunity was lost when the decking was removed. The construction of the decking are fresh breaches of planning control which do not benefit from previously accrued immunity.”

The local authority refused to comment on Ms Thomas’s application. He now faces the prospect of having to demolish both the raised decking and the rear extension. 

A council spokesperson said: “The evidence available from Google Street View images indicates that the decking currently on the site is different from the decking constructed in 2012. The new decking is larger, with a different design, incorporating a garage underneath it and is therefore considered to be a new breach of planning control. There is an ongoing enforcement investigation for the site and the next step will be to consider the expediency of taking enforcement action against the works.”

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They added that Mr Thomas is entitled to appeal the decision.

He had filed a signed declaration in his application to the council, saying that when buying the home in August 2012 there had been works including “a small rear extension” and “a decked area to the front”.

Hugh Cox, who built the extension and decking, also gave a signed declaration saying he carried out works there in December 2012.

And Mr Thomas’s friend Liam Bargery wrote to the council saying he was a regular visitor over the past 10 years and that there had always been a rear extension and artificial grass on the decking.

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