We have invited a new member to join us as an Enforcement Panel Chair to help us crack down on the hundreds of illegal alterations made throughout our conservation areas every year.
Marianne Jacobs-Lim, who has worked for community groups including Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group, the Mount Pleasant Forum, and Friends of St Andrew’s Gardens, has been involved in enforcement cases near where she lives on Calthorpe Street, and in wider planning and conservation issues relating to the notorious Mount Pleasant Development.
We previously walked around the area with Camden’s Enforcement Team Leader Elizabeth Beaumont and Deputy Team Leader Gary Bakall to point out specific enforcement cases to see what action is likely to be successful.
But knowledge of the technical aspects of enforcement action is unlikely to be the greatest obstacle to ‘cleaning up’ our conservation areas and getting them back in proper order. The challenge will no doubt prove to be the sheer magnitude of illegal alterations requiring enforcement, which we estimate to be in the region of 200-300 cases relating to shopfronts alone.
Shopfronts are proving to be the main offenders, particularly convenience stores, most of which seem to have no concept of planning law whatsoever.
Some shop-owners have been hit with enforcement action more than five times in the past ten years, but continue to make illegal alterations in the hope that nobody will notice.
The main problem is that the practice of making illegal alterations is now so widespread that most shop-owners probably don’t even realise what they are doing is illegal. Camden entirely relies upon residents, or groups like our own, to report essentially every enforcement issue that arises.
But even reporting enforcement cases and checking on their progress is a mammoth task. Camden’s enforcement team still do everything by paper (or PDF), meaning there’s no way to file a report or check up on it digitally, except to manually write out an enforcement complaint, email it, and then send emails to check on their progress.
It has led to the need for a dedicated team to report enforcement issues, to clear the enormous backlog of unreported cases, and to pressure Camden to enforce where necessary and keep us updated on their progress.