Are we really served by the great, the good and the august members of society whose job it is to provide us with services, information, advice and even the laws that govern us?
I was once a member of a professional body but, having taken and passed their exams, I let it lapse. In the main, it was because my life took a different turn. But, in part, it was because I’d become disillusioned with the whole concept; the body seemed to exist more to support members than the public.
Solicitors have always been my bugbear. I can’t tell you the number of potential self-builders who have regretfully informed me that their solicitor had warned them against a plot because of some minor defect in the title or an inability to prove an access that palpably exists. When I tell them to go straight back and organise a single-premium Indemnity Policy, invariably everything’s fine. I’m pleased to still be in touch with quite a few who are happily living in self-builds that they would have otherwise abandoned.
Recent experience hasn’t been great either. One couple, who’d found a plot on a Plotfinder Challenge, suddenly had their vendor get shirty and threaten to pull out. They later discovered that their solicitor had qualified their offer by linking it to the obtaining of detailed planning permission. The vendor, quite rightly, felt that it was not his place to wait for approval that might not be forthcoming, for a design he had no say in, and which wouldn’t alter the value of the land he was offering.
With my own plot, it was me who read through the old title deeds and discovered a restrictive covenant, which required an Indemnity Policy.
It’s not just solicitors — estate agents have a woeful lack of understanding of property law and planning. Their knowledge of Building Regulations and things like the Code for Sustainable Homes is almost non-existent. How can they hope to really value property and land?
And then we come to my particular bête noire — architects. Strangely enough, I’m rather friendly with several. But it took my breath away when one architect recently admitted to me that they didn’t know a lot about planning!
Surely those who govern us are better equipped and furnished with knowledge? Alas, no. A planning officer recently divulged that they did not know if one application could be run concurrently with another. Nor did they know whether one could renew an application that was, in itself, a renewal of a previous consent. In their defence, they did point to the welter of – often conflicting – legislation and guidance.
So, to the top of the tree — the MPs who make the laws that bamboozle all of these experts. If you watched the debate on Permitted Development rights in parliament earlier this summer, you may, like me, have come away with the distinct impression that most MPs either did not have a clue, or had only recently discovered the existence of these rights. The incredulity that people could already build extensions and the like without planning permission was there for all to see. So what hope is there for the rest of us?
If the professionals are flummoxed, who do we turn to?