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Madsen Pirie wins his battle for red pantiles

Madsen Pirie has been having bother from his local planning officer:

The house designs were ready for approval, but the planning officer had one last point. Where I had red pantiles there had to be blue slates. I didn’t like blue slates, and felt red clay tiles fitted the design better. No, I was told. Blue slate gives a much better vista with the next house. The next house was some way away, and only from half-way up a tree 500 yards away could one see ‘a vista’ through the obscuring foliage. Furthermore, I added, most of the houses in the village had red pantiles. No, came the reply, blue slate was called for.

I found that the planning officer did not have the power to require blue slate. I wrote back indicating this, and saying that this was a question of taste. Since it was my house and my money, it was going to be my taste. Back came a letter. True, she did not have the power to insist, but she ‘strongly recommended’ blue slate. I wonder how many people even question the powers which government has conferred upon these pocket Hitlers to interfere in such detail in our lives. Had it not been for a chance remark by my builder, I doubt if I would have checked up.

The pernicious aspect of this planning officer’s behaviour was not just that she had the power to insist on all manner of things which she should have had no power to even influence, but that she also used her actual powers to suggest that she possessed other powers as well, which means that in a sense she really does possess these other powers too. Not many people would have been as cussed about his legal rights as Madsen Pirie was. And as Madsen himself asks, how many others even question where the legal line really does lie?

It would be interesting to know if, and if so, just at what stage in all this to-ing-and fro-ing, this lady planner found out who, as it were, she was dealing with.

The point is that having fights with people like this planning officer count twice if you are someone like Madsen Pirie, once for the advantage gained by winning, and then again for the experience that can be talked about, written about, ideologised about, and of course now that there is an Adam Smith Institute Blog, blogged about. Nothing like a good juicy fight with a real live state bureaucrat to enliven a blog devoted to denouncing state bureaucracy, is there? So, you square up to a person like Madsen Pirie, in a matter like this, at your peril.

Lesser personages, on the other hand, are far easier to subject to “recommendations”.

And that’s hardly to mention the powers that this lady does now legally possess, even over the likes of Madsen Pirie, and over anybody else begging for permission to build something on what is supposedly their own property, within her domain.

So, even though Madsen won his particular little pantile battle, this is still a very nasty war and not one that our side is anywhere near to winning.

17 comments to Madsen Pirie wins his battle for red pantiles

  • Verity

    Where can we get in touch with this lady, to say a friendly hello?

  • Power is often a matter of what you allow your oppressor to do to you. Let something like that slip past, and given time enough, it becomes “codified by tradition” that the planning officer has the power to insist upon the blue slate.

    Madsen Pirie is both a terrific lecturer and a staunch friend of freedom. Happy New Year, Dr. Pirie, and congratulations.

  • Julian Morrison

    Planning permission is responsible for more evil than shows on the surface.

    - town crowding and expensive housing: because it’s so hard to get permission to build into the countryside, and self-build is replete with legal pitfalls.

    - characterless housing estates: because a grant of planning permission on land raises its value so high that individuals are priced out of the market and only big corporate developers need apply

    - countryside turning into dormitory villages: because it’s so hard to get permission to grow the amenities in the village, and so expensive to maintain a rural house in a way that keeps planners happy. The expense blocks out all but yuppies.

  • Tony H

    Much of what appears to be prima facie bloody mindedness by planners is better thought of as professional caution, ignorance, and a bureaucratic impulse to control through standardisation – a pernicious combination. For professional reasons I meet lots of homeowners, plus a few architects, hardly any of whom have a good word for planners. Interestingly, when I was writing a feature on a new-build home sited within a national park (a recipe for planning difficulties) the architects said that despite the struggle by themselves and the homeowners to get what they wanted past the planners, that particular park authority is consistently the most professional & co-operative planning department with which they deal! The awkwardness is par for the course, I’m told: it’s the outward manifestation of planners’ chronic lack of imagination combined with their fonctionnaires’ instinct to take the safest option every time, and try to impose something bland, inoffensive, unexceptional. And the qualifying course for planners is just two years – which helps to explain their general philistinism, and ignorance of both design and the social history of housing.

  • eric

    Ok, I’m going to assuming that this is another one of those peculiar British things—I’ve got three Home Depots (an American Do-it-yourself building material/home improvement retailer) within 10 miles of where I live, and despite the assorted restrictions on doing things to ‘Historic’ buildings (designated so by the local governments)–I can’t even imagine the tumult that would occur if somebody started trying to tell people what color of tile was acceptable. Sheesh.

    Someone please explain more about these ‘planning’ officers.

  • Jason Bontrager

    See I thought upon mis-reading the title that this was going to be an *extremely* interesting entry. Who is Madsen Pirie? Why did he want red PANTIES? Who was trying to prevent him from getting them and why?

    Noticing that “l” between the “i” and the “e” took a lot of the entertainment value out of the story:-P.

  • It is possible that Madsen’s home lies within a designated Conservation Area. In such zones, local planning authorities do have greater remit and power to ensure that the external appearance of dwellings stays in keeping with the ‘character’ of the particular locale.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Eric wrote:
    I can’t even imagine the tumult that would occur if somebody started trying to tell people what color of tile was acceptable.

    Read this PDF from Beacon Hill in Boston, MA.

  • David Gillies

    That’s small beer – there’s a municipality in Florida where you have to consult the planning authority if you’re thinking of repainting your bathroom. I can’t find the link, unfortunately.

  • Yes, I misread “pantiles” as “panties,” even though I’d already read this story on the ASI blog. Thanks for the laugh, Mr Micklethwait.

  • Yeah, we live in a neighborhood that has a Homeowners Association (HOA), basically a non-governmental group that takes varying powers over the look of people’s houses. The HOA in my parent’s community does try to regulate the color of the houses, and in my neighborhood, one cannot change the color of the trim without prior approval. I don’t know what would happen if you did it without their little approval, but the people involved do get quite the officious attitude.

  • Highway,

    there’s a big difference between VOLUNTARILY buying a house in an area that you know has an officious homeowners’ association – if you don’t like it, buy a house somewhere else – and some petty official you can’t avoid trying to dictate to you about things over which they don’t even actually have any legal power.

  • Andrew Duffin

    My house is a self-build, and one of the conditions of the Planning Permission was that the restrictions of the nearby Conservation Area would be “deemed to apply”, even though the property is not within it.

    Do you see what they’ve done here?

    They have extended their control (and very significantly too – you try just blowing your nose in a Conservation Area, never mind building something) – but they’ve done it without going through the legally-prescribed process of consultation, administrative orders, etc etc.

    What’s that? You don’t like the way we did that? Well you can just do without your Planning Permission then. Next!

    These people are one of the worst aspects of modern Britain. But of course, we can’t go back to the chaos we had before, can we? I mean, look at the sort of thing that used to get built before proper planning came along! I mean – Edinburgh New Town, Broadway, or Bourton-on-the-water, or Tobermory waterfront, or – need I go on?

    Blimey, we don’t want any more eyesores like those! Thank heavens for the professionals.

  • Dave F

    Apparently Hampstead’s zealousness in this regard knows no bounds. Painting is something the local authority is very interested in controlling, according to an editor of mine who lived there in the 80s.

    There has been an amusing row in a relatively new suburb of Cape Town, where a black home owner who painted his new house dusky pink is being assailed by (white) neighbours who said they had all agreed on a uniform colour scheme of ochre, green and blue and he was lowering the tone.

    This is what apartheid has wrought.

    He says it’s none of their business, and suggests the real problem is the colour of his person, and not his house …

  • Cobden Bright

    I personally volunteer to “do” her up the “tradesman’s entrance”.

    I have to say, though, it takes a pathetic type of person to kowtow to this bullsh*t. Are we supposed to shed tears about what style she “suggests”? Sorry, but IMO it is a simple case of a quick call to the lawyer, and then a “f*ck you darling, if you don’t mind, but I couldn’t give a damn what you think”.

    Did Madsen ask his builder/lawyer if he could arrange a Spinal Tap-style large female *bust* in the image of said stupid council working retard?

  • Alan Little,

    I’m not so sure there’s such a gulf. If I wish to have my house where I want it – right here – then I am forced to be part of the HOA. Any development near this area is going to be in an HOA. These HOA’s are written into property deeds, before the subdivision is set. And generally, all new construction HOA’s are using the same general boiler-plate language for their incorporating documents.

    I’ll grant there IS a big difference that this is a very local association, and not an official part of the government. I also misunderstood that the Planning Officers were related to a town or area, not the entire country (as I now assume), otherwise the same ‘voluntary’ caveats apply. The problem in both cases is the presumptuousness of the civil ‘masters’ over personal affairs.

  • Bryan C

    US-style HOAs and covenants can be very restrictive indeed. Think of the sort of restrictions on interior paint and decor that some landlords insert in apartment’s lease agreements, and then scale that concept up to an entire neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses. Some places you can’t even plant a tree or a shrub in your front yard without getting written permission first.

    Even worse, the groups in charge are largely self-appointed and self-policing. They can make life very difficult for anyone who disagrees, including imposing substantial fines. Nor are they optional, since they’re somehow magically attached to the house. There’s a whole raft of legally questionable stuff just waiting for a pissed off lawyer with some spare time.

    When I bought my first home three years ago I specifically told my agent that I would not even consider a home in any community that had an HOA. Life is too short to let a nosy neighbor tell me what kind of drapes or color of paint I’m allowed to use in my own house.