Mechanic forced to move or close his business on a dictionary technicality

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham - Credit: M Roberts

A mechanic who set up from home is being forced to find new premises because of a technicality.  

Jake Roberts was given permission by his father to use an agriculture storage unit at the family home in Little Downham as a car repairs and servicing centre.  

But East Cambridgeshire District Council issued enforcement proceedings – and the Planning Inspectorate backed their decision.  

Planning inspector Stephen Brown concluded that he had to abide by the description used in the original planning application from 2018.  

“The description of the development as an ‘agricultural type storage shed’ includes the functional term ‘storage’”, said Mr Brown.  

“In its natural and ordinary meaning, taken from the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary, storage must be regarded as the keeping or stocking of goods or possessions for future use or kept in reserve. 

“In this case it may possibly include occasional repair to stored objects, which may well include vehicles and other items that are incidental to the use of the appellant’s holding. 

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“However, it cannot reasonably include bringing anything to the site from elsewhere on a regular basis – including vehicles – for the specific and commercial purpose of repair or maintenance works before taking those things away again.” 

He added: “The planning permission and any conditions must be taken to define what has been permitted.  

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham. His garage/workshop is circled - Credit: Google

“Only in exceptional circumstances can extraneous material be imported, such as information provided to support the application or mentioned in an officer’s report.  

“Such circumstances do not exist here.” 

Mr Brown said: “I consider the functional description of the building clearly defines what it is for – in this case ‘storage’”. 

He said on his visit he saw numerous vehicles on the site - some within the building - including private cars, commercial and agricultural vehicles.  

“There was clearly servicing and repair work in progress in the shed,” he said. 

“I have therefore come to the view that the alleged material change of use has occurred, and that on the balance of probabilities there is no planning permission for such a change.” 

Jake’s father, Malcolm, said the planning inspector had allowed him six months – and not three as the council wanted – to find somewhere else.  

“The time frame is too tight,” said Malcolm.  

He has contacted MP Steve Barclay but to no avail.  

The council had been told that Jake was formerly employed as a mechanic some 25 miles from the family home.  

The council heard that Second Drove is home to many other businesses.

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham

Jake Roberts will be forced to close (or move) from Second Drove, Little Downham - Credit: M Roberts

These include Paddocks House Management Company Ltd, S. F. Eversman Leadership Consulting Ltd, Street-wise Driving School (Malcolm’s business) and Meow Bow Wow Boarding Kennels. 

Also based on Second Drove is S & J Cars and Commercial Ltd, Plush Perl’s Soft Furnishing, and seven others including premises used as workshops, for machinery storage, for storage of civil engineering plant.  

Ultimately, however, the planning inspector said he had to consider whether the alleged material change of use can be regarded as sustainable in this countryside location. 

Mr Brown said: “I consider the vehicle repair use is of significant harm to the character of the countryside.” 

“I accept that the business may make a contribution to the local economy of the wider area by providing a useful service. 

 “However, customers must come largely from the centres of population some distance away and leave their vehicles for a period before returning to collect them.  

“A relatively isolated site like this is not really suitable for such an operation and cannot be seen as land of the right type or in the right place.” 

Mr Brown said he had been told Jake had not been able to find a suitable site in, or close to Little Downham, and that a potential site in Ely was not viable for a start-up business on cost grounds.  

“There has been no apparent investigation of any other potential sites in, for instance Littleport the nearest market town,” said Mr Brown. 

“Such sites are more likely to be available on industrial estates in larger towns.”