Non Conforming Uses: Socio-Geographic Study

Comerford, F. J. (1980). Non Conforming Uses: Socio-Geographic Study. MPhil thesis The Open University.



"Non Conforming Use" is a term used generally by local and governmental planning agencies to describe uses of land and buildings which do not accord with their planning policies. It appears to have differing quasi-legal overtones as between authorities. The object of this study is to determine the origins of land use designation and those circumstances which give rise to non conformity as interpreted by the planning authorities in England and Wales.

An England/Wales survey and a control area survey were conducted and the incidence of conflict use examined from available local authority recorded enforcement decisions to establish any derived order of use conflict. The established prime conflict was then studied in a more accessible local area by reference to selected case studies. Possible causes of conflict were illustrated from both the view of County and District implemented planning policy and that of the user.

The surveys reveal a widespread order and incidence of "conflict uses" throughout the country. This widespread order and incidence may arise from a common ethos of interpretation. Suddenly increased levels of served enforcement notices show a more efficient system of detection and public participation because of recent changes in the law which give the public more legal opportunity to complain against "pollution". Within these increasing levels, the order of conflict uses stays constant but an increasing number of the "offenders" are being declared innocent by the appeal process (which is in effect an internal process because the Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, is also the Minister for planning authorities and planning policies). There is a distinction between law and local planning policy, but where land uses are concerned, enforcement notices are served primarily on the basis of legal interpretation of the expression "material change in use". In other words, the law is to some extent able to be interpreted, or used, to suit the local planning authorities' view of their policy. They are also the prosecutors.

Whilst the study does involve examination of quasi-legal issues, it is not intended to be a purely planning critique, although the conclusions may involve such a critique because the study has been made against the assumptions that processes in the planning system, including the element of public participation, are direct causal factors of non-conformity and its apparent increase measured as a use conflict.

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