Durham Council open investigation into cummings lockdown cottage
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Durham County Council (DCC) have confirmed that they have opened an investigation into Dominic Cummings cottage at North Lodge following complaints that it does not have the correct planning permissions or council tax banding. The investigation came about after I broke the story surrounding the “spare cottage” Mr Cummings stated he stayed at during his trip north during lockdown.
I previously wrote that the property near Durham that Dominic Cummings described as a “spare cottage” on his father’s farm, is in-fact jointly owned by Mr Cummings himself along with his parents and other family members. This then raised questions as to whether Cummings trip was more a journey to a second home, something that was strictly prohibited at the time, rather than a dash for childcare aswas claimed.
During my investigations into the property’s ownership, I noticed that despite it being reported that Cummings had lived in this property in 2002, there was no record of it having been registered for council tax, nor was there any planning permission for it to become a residential dwelling. Rather, there was no record of it ever having planning permission granted.
In light of that, I broke the exclusive story on the fact the “spare cottage” was missing planning permissions and council tax banding. The story spread quickly across social media with prominent figures such as Alistair Campbell and Carole Cadwalladr commenting. However, there was significant pushback.
A bone of contention for many that was it may not need planning permission as it would fall under an agricultural exemption. While this may have been true in some cases, there is one important fact that matters here. The Land Registry Documentation states that the land is within a conservation area, therefore, any construction requires planning permission to ensure that it is fitting with the surroundings along with other considerations. Secondly, the deeds also state that the UK Coal Authority must approve the construction of any structure, something that it was not done in the case of Cummings’ cottage.
It is true that they could apply for retrospective planning permission, this was never in question. However, given it is certainly not in line with the original property and is merely a “concrete bunker,” (Cummings description), it may not receieve that permission for Durham County Council.
It is also important to note that Mr Cummings is a non dependent of his father, so his previous residence there in the early 2000s, should have seen the property registered for Council Tax at the time. The cottage is not an extension of the main property, and Cummings has himself called it a “spare cottage,” indicating it is a property in its own right. It may have been exempt if used for agricultural workers, but during Dominic Cummings residence, it should have been valued for Council Tax Banding.
The Northern Echo have now reported that Durham County Council (DCC) have opened an investigation into the cottage and the issues surrounding its status. This comes after several complaints where submitted following the investigation.
A spokesperson for Durham County Council said in a statement;
“We have received a number of complaints and are currently looking into the matter.”
One of the complaints which I was sent when it was submitted relates to an alleged “unauthorised material change of use of building to residential occupation and associated alterations”
A response to one of the complainants from a senior enforcement officer at Durham County Council says:
“I am the case officer and will be investigating your concerns.
“The investigation will seek to establish whether there has been a breach of planning control.
“If there has not been a breach of planning control you will be informed at the earliest opportunity that no further action will be taken and the case file closed. If a breach of planning control is identified, further investigation will be required, and you will be updated at relevant times.
“You should be aware that some enforcement cases may take some time to resolve and, furthermore, the current restrictions imposed as a result of coronavirus may affect the speed of our investigation and, we would ask for your patience at this time.”
Durham City MP Mary Foy told the Northern Echo;
“We had quite a number of emails about it. If they don’t have planning permission, then they asked for retrospective planning permission, they could be asked to pull the house down, but I do not know how strict the council are on that type of thing.”
I will now continue to keep an eye on developments as they arise and keep you updated. Boris Johnson had hoped the spotlight would be taken off Dominic Cummings, but it appears that isn’t going to happen just yet.