When “Private” Isn’t

Here’s an interesting story:

Jeremy Clarkson has been granted ‘urgent’ planning permission to build cattle shed – in time for his herd to calve in the New Year.

To any American farmer, this would cause a certain amount of head-scratching:  you need a new shed on your farm, you build it.

Not, of course, in Britishland, where ownership of property gives one no rights at all, except of course the obligation to pay taxes on it.

And if the “emergency” part hadn’t been granted, requiring an endless wait while the permission process wound its tortuous way around bureaucratic inertia, “public” input (objections from people who think farmers should be able to carry on with Saxon-era buildings) — resulting in Clarkson building an “un-licensed” shed to save his calves’ lives — why then, he’d be fined and forced to tear the thing down.

Government at its finest.


  1. You’re pushing my button. I design buildings, to be built, but now, the building permit process is taking 6 – 10 months or more to turn around. That is, a plan for a building I design is submitted for a building permit and the process for doing so, where the plan package is sitting on the desks of gov’t drones, for the better part of a year.

    Lemme ‘splain something. When I design a building for a client they have already secured the construction loan and the clock is ticking on the interest payments. That means, the longer the gov’t takes to process the building permit the more money the lender collects in interest, on money that is just sitting there.

    One of the most difficult aspects of my role as a designer is helping the client understand the overbearing nature of the gov’t in it’s rules and diligence. It’s almost impossible for regular people to get their heads around it. It’s true, you don’t really own your property, you just get to pay for it and the gov’t extortion that is always there, and increasing with each passing day. And some people have the unmitigated gall to refer to the US as free.

    1. oh, you should tell your customers that, as is the case, if they stick a few fresh $100 notes in the folder their application will be approved much faster.

      That’s what we found out when trying to remodel our house (decades ago, but still going strong here in the low countries of Europe): the planning commission will delay and hold up your application until you either give up or fork over some baksheesh to the members of the commission.
      Heck, it got so bad in the city we lived in that they openly told you so and thought they’d get away with it and did for 20 years until one company with deep enough pockets and nationwide interests filed criminal charges for corruption against the entire department.
      Of course nobody got fired, everyone got “promoted away” to other departments and the new crowd are made up of friends and family members of the old people who just continue the practice but a tad more discreetly so.

    2. I remember well when I bought my first abode (in Orange Co, CA) back in the 70’s, that the local rag did a study on costs of home construction in the OC, and found that (at that time) 1/3 of the cost of a new home was due to government restrictions, delays, and permit costs. The average cost of a new home in the OC, free-standing and not a condo, was $150K.

  2. Isn’t Clarkson’s farm in some sort of BritishLande historical preservation area? Not that I think highly of such things but it may splain why it’s worse than usual for getting a permit.

    1. pretty much all of the British isles now falls under such regulations…
      People trying to build something pray and burn candles to whatever deities are willing to listen that there’s no pot shards or animal bones in the ground or their construction project will be delayed by possibly decades while archeologists and historians salivate over the place at their leisure (and at the public’s expense of course).

  3. Leave it to government to make what SHOULD be a simple process more complex than it needs to be.

    Unlike some, I get the need for permits, but the permitting process should be limited to:
    1) Making sure the structure in question will actually be ON your property, and not within any required easements.
    2) Making sure that the building, along with electric, gas and water service is up to code.

    Item 1 can be taken care of with a check of the survey and the proposed shed location, item 2 with a couple of inspections during construction. Total time required measured in hours at most.

    I know some will balk at even that, but when your neighbor notices that you built a shed on HIS property instead of yours, it’s the government-run courts which will need to sort it out, and if the thing catches fire it’s the government-run fire department which will be dealing with it. Better to deal with it preemptively I think.

    Plus, friends and family of mine include electricians and plumbers, and I could tell you stories about house modifications that didn’t concern themselves with building codes. Garden hoses running thru the house instead of pipes, and antenna wire used to wire a light fixture.

    Mark D

    1. Mark D,
      You’re absolutely right.

      I spent 14 years in the construction industry and had one building inspector ask me for a bribe right in his office in front of people. I was stunned. When I worked for a road contractor, two state resident engineers demanded bribes on a regular basis. it was appalling.


        1. TrueBrit,
          when I was getting the paperwork for the building permit application, the inspector said that his son hadn’t been paid when he worked on a project that my firm had been on. I asked him which firm his son worked for because we didn’t perform electrical work, we subcontracted it out. He got cagey. I mentioned the conversation to my Sr Project Manager and he said that I was being asked for a bribe.

          When I did road work, the state state resident engineer on the project wouldn’t let us complete the project in the fall because it was near his house and his next project was at the edge of the allowable travel distance by the state and he didn’t want to drive that distance in the winter. So we kept the field office opened throughout the winter with the state (read taxpayers) paying for the charges. In the Spring we “finished” the project with some grass seed and giving the resident engineer a lamb for Easter. The graft on another project was even more widespread and disgusting. I had moved to the office by that time so I wasn’t involved with that project very much.


  4. What surprised me when doing the Marketing for a Civil Engineering firm was not the fact that local Government Contracting was influenced ( Pay for Play ) by “Donations to Election Campaigns”. It was how little $ was need to do it. $ 1,000 secured a $ 2,500,000 engineering services project.

    1. $1k might be seen as so small to not be worth investigating. Also, they might give “hostages.” The politician entails a certain contractor or vendor gets a certain value of contracts while the recipient firm hires a friend or relative of the politician. I saw that too, not necessarily with relatives of politicians working for the same firm I did but I did see it with private companies.


  5. From what I’ve read about England / United Kingdom, their land ownership/tax laws
    can be a nightmare in addition to costing the home/land owner staggering
    amounts of money. This is what happens when gov’t views you as nothing more
    than a serf with money that THEY are entitled to for taking care of you, after,
    of course, they have taken care of themselves much better !

    Unless he is expecting a sizeable number of calves, couldn’t he have the calves
    born on a friend’s property or a temporarily rented place just until the calves are born ?

    I also assume they have the same wonderful setup over there as we over here in that –
    you can NEVER actually OWN your home/land/hovel !
    You can pay it off, have no mortgage or liens and then you
    continue FOREVER to pay ever increasing RENT ( taxes ! ) to the government !
    Somewhere around 70 % of my property taxes goes to SCHOOLS which
    I have NEVER set foot in, have no reason to ever do so and have no one attending !
    Truly private property that you actually OWN is a MYTH, at least here !

    HOA’s can get just as picky and obtrusive. However, unlike ‘government’,
    their only punishment option is a lien on your property which normally
    cannot be collected until you sell !

    1. Wallace,
      Youre absolutely right.

      I worked with a guy whose father lived in an HOA. The HOA had a limit on the size deck you could build but the local building code had no restrictions like that. So coworker’s father built the deck in accordance with the HOA restrictions, then extended it much larger and more useful. The deck passed the building inspection and he got a useful sized deck. It wasn’t long before the petty HOA starting sending nasty grams to my coworker’s father. They couldnt collect the fine until he sold so he ignored them. When he sold, he just tore back the offending section of the deck, put the rails back up and since it was in compliance, the HOA couldn’t collect on alleged fines.

      Anytime a HOA gets the shaft is a good day. They’re made up of petty tyrants with far too much time on their hands


  6. Read all the small print and then it does not hurt to hire a lawyer to read it over once more when you purchase real property. It depends upon the state or country because all the legal crap in the past is attached to the dirt you are purchasing, mineral rights, flood plans, retention of rainfall, home owner associations, zoning restrictions, conservation of trees and even shrubs in some states, and of course taxes, and having said all of that I am glad I am a home owner in Texas, 11 years over 65 with a bit of military disability so my taxes have been frozen for over ten years and actually gone down a bit to about $150 a month for a great growing city with a good school system and slightly oversized local government. We can do a fair amount of improvement and construction without much government being involved because Texas.

  7. You think it’s bad in britishland and it is getting worse; gentlemen, I give you Italy. An example. It can take a year to get permission to upgrade a factory on an industrial estate just to redo the roof removing asbestos, improve the windows by bringing them into line with current regs, and fix the floor. Finance sorted clock ticking, and they wonder why the Italian economy is f##ked.

Comments are closed.