On our densely populated island, there is a pressing need for available land to be put to sensible use and, where restrictive covenants lurking in title deeds prevent that happening, they can be modified. In a case on point, a man's desire to provide a larger home for his growing family prevailed over his neighbours' objections.
The case concerned a modest bungalow which sat on a large plot of semi-rural land in the Green Belt. Its owner, who has a wife and three small children, had obtained planning permission to knock it down and replace it with a five-bedroom house. His neighbours were, however, concerned that the project would, amongst other things, impinge on their unspoilt views of the surrounding countryside.
In resisting the proposals, the neighbours pointed to two restrictive covenants that forbade extension or alteration of the bungalow, or construction of further buildings in its grounds, without their written consent. After such consent was withheld, the owner applied to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) for the covenants to be modified so that the development could proceed.
The FTT accepted that construction of the new house and a garage to serve it would be a reasonable use of the land and would not disturb the neighbours' enjoyment of their property to any significant extent. The adjoining gardens were well screened from each other by trees and shrubs and the development would make no real difference to the neighbours. Whilst it did not doubt the sincerity of the neighbours' concerns, the FTT found that they were without real substance.
The same, however, did not apply to plans for a new summerhouse – effectively an outsized gym or recreation space – that the owner also planned to construct. That would not be so well screened from the neighbours' land and would have an adverse impact on their views and their sense of space and relative seclusion. In the circumstances, the FTT modified the covenants so as to enable construction of the house and garage, but not the summerhouse.