A homeowner was caught adding a cesspit without planning permission after his neighbours smelled an "unbearable stench" wafting over to their properties.
Residents in Southbourne, Dorset, followed their noses to sniff out the source — a property in Carbery Avenue where homeowner Gary Levesconte, 57, had installed a cesspit in his garden without planning permission. This had been to accommodate a toilet for his summer house as an unusual bathroom design idea for when his children and grandchildren visited.
Levesconte was subsequently forced to apply for a retrospective planning application, which was then granted by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) council.
Summer house toilet built for guests
In the planning documents, Levesconte explained that he recently reconstructed the summer house in his garden for BBQs in the summer with his children and grandchildren. He had however decided to also add a toilet, and subsequently, the cesspit for the effluent, so his guests wouldn't have to go into the main house to use the loo.
The summer house with the unusual type of toilet replacing another outbuilding, which he claimed was at risk of falling down.
The cesspool was then constructed in the garden 2.8 meters away from the summer house and he explained that he intended for it to be emptied every six months.
The summer house's measured 5.9 meters wide, 3.9 meters long, and with a height reaching 3.6 meters to the pitched roof while the cesspit is underground, but does have a grey lid on the surface.
You can read more about 'what is a cesspit' in our guide.
Neighbours claim cesspit is 'abhorrent'
Local residents voiced a total of 20 objections to Mr Levesconte's retrospective planning application, which covered both the reconstruction of the summer house and retention of the newly-dug cesspit. Objections included:
- Insufficient display of planning notice;
- Concealment of planning process;
- Inclusion of impacted neighbours;
- Request for proper notice placement;
- Discrepancies and concerns in the application;
- Effects on apartment building;
- Smell concerns created when cleaning cesspool;
- Causing disruption with gatherings;
- Outbuilding is being used a permanent residence;
- Cesspools are not in keeping with the area;
- The cesspool would create a biohazard if not maintained properly;
Additional comments were also sent to BCP council such as one from Greg Howe, which read: “I am concerned that if this toilet and cesspit is allowed to remain then it will have a detrimental impact on not just the value of my home but all the others in the road as well. Whenever it is emptied it creates an unbearable stench that permeates the entire road. It is horrendous.
“It makes it impossible to open the windows or venture outside. We are not in the middle of the countryside where there might be a need for a property to have a cesspit, nor are we living in Victorian times.”
One complainant stated the cesspit was "totally unnecessary" and the toilet could have been connected to the mains "quite easily" whilst another stated: "I wholeheartedly support the objections, in particular I find abhorrent the idea of the unnecessary erection of a cesspool in a pleasant residential area."
Council grants application calling it 'minimal risk'
Levesconte's retrospective planning application was granted on 24 July 2023 meaning he can keep the cesspool, toilet and his summerhouse, but only if certain conditions are satisfied.
Granting permission, a planning officer for the BCP council stated: "It is noted that outbuildings are prevalent within the surrounding area of Carbery Avenue, thus the principle of an outbuilding would not be out of character for the area.
"The installation of a cesspool is not common within an urban area however it is installed underground in a contained unit. The only visible element is a small grey lid that sits above ground within the curtilage of the application site, therefore the cesspool is not seen to negatively impact the appearance of the area."
The issue of the cesspit being a biohazard was also disregarded as it was ruled: "In regard to potential health hazards, as the cesspool is a self-contained unit and does not soakaway into the ground there is minimal risk created by the use of the cesspool when being maintained properly."
A spokesperson for BCP Council told Homebuilding & Renovating when asked whether the cesspit has received building control signoff, they said: "As the building is exempt from building control, and the cess pit has been stated as solely for the use of the exempt building, it is therefore not subject to building regulations."
Levesconte was told the cesspit was required to undergo "sufficient cleaning to prevent unwanted smells and disruptions to others" and the summer house must not be used for residential purposes, but otherwise there were no issues with the development.
The Council’s Environmental Health Officer also raised no objection to the works.
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News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals. Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.