How to stay within the law when storing your bike

This article outlines how you might be affected by planning legislation related to putting bike sheds in front gardens. It gives examples of what some councils are doing to help residents store their bikes safely.

Relevant legislation

Under the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) 1995 Schedule 2 Part 1 Class E, planning permission is required for any ‘building or enclosure’ between the front building line of a residential property and the highway boundary (i.e. the boundary between the private front garden and the adjacent pavement, if there is one).

It is generally understood by councils that bike sheds are forms of ‘buildings or enclosures’ and therefore require planning permission at the front of the house. Obtaining permission will set you back £172. An exception is made for certain ‘minor operations’ under Schedule 2 Part 2 Class A of the GPDO, which are classed as ‘permitted development’ and do not require planning permission. Cycle sheds are not generally classed as 'minor operations'.

Permitted development

Minor operations that are permitted development include ‘the erection of…a fence, wall or other means of enclosure’ which does not exceed two metres in height or one metre if adjacent to the highway. Whether a bike shed is an enclosure is open to debate as the act does not include a definition of ‘enclosure’.

In a briefing note prepared by the Ealing Cycling Campaign and submitted to Ealing Borough Council, the report's author, Peter Mynors, argued that bike sheds could be classed as a type of enclosure. He used the definition of enclosure from the Oxford English Dictionary to demonstrate his argument, which states that to 'enclose' is to ‘surround or close off on all sides’.

In Mynors words he said: “a structure whose sole purpose is to fully enclose one or more bicycles is, by definition, an enclosure.” As it stands, because there is no national guidance on what an enclosure is, you could try to convince your local planning authority that your bike shed is in fact an enclosure and therefore exempt from planning permission. There has been no test case yet to establish this point. This might not work, however, as a bike shed looks much more like a building than a fence or wall. An alternative would be for the council to create a Local Development Order which could exempt bike sheds from planning permission.

Local Development Orders

Councils can remove permitted development rights by means of an Article 4 direction, but they can also tailor them to their own circumstances, such as when the need for bicycle storage arises, via a Local Development Order.

Local Development Orders (LDOs) are made by local planning authorities and give a grant of planning permission to specific types of development within a defined area. They streamline the planning process by removing the need for developers to make a planning application to a planning authority. Two or more planning authorities may wish to co-implement or co-consult on cross-boundary LDOs, but each individual authority must adopt their own LDO.

LDOs may be permanent or time-limited and can be revoked or modified. Councils need to word the LDO in such a way that exemptions cannot be abused, such as, for instance, by erecting unpleasant looking prefabricated structures, which would most certainly be considered visually offensive. Brighton & Hove Council, which recently received criticism for ordering residents to remove cycle storage in front gardens, are considering creating a LDO to get around the problem.

It would be a waste of resources for each council that finds itself in the cycle shed quandary to create a LDO to get itself out of the dilemma or for each applicant to have to convince the planning authority that their bike shed was an enclosure and therefore exempt from planning permission. A more sensible plan of action would be for the Government to amend the Town and Country Planning GPDO in order to clarify the meaning of ‘enclosure’ and to give examples of the type of cycle storage permitted and to remove the word ‘enclosure’ from Schedule 2 Part 1 Class E to avoid confusion. This would help avoid future disputes between councils and residents.

Enforcement notices

If you have already put up a cycle shed without planning permission and someone makes a complaint to the council, the planning authority is not obliged to issue an enforcement notice. They may, however, ask you to take down the shed, as happened to Pink Floyd band member David Gilmour when he erected a beach hut-style shed in front of his listed seafront property in Hove.

If you are asked to remove the shed and you fail to comply, the council may issue an enforcement notice. Under section 172 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 authorities may issue enforcement notices where cycle storage has been built without planning permission where ‘it appears to them that it is expedient to issue the notice, having regard to the provisions of the development plan and to any other material considerations.’ Hence, where it is not expedient to serve an enforcement notice, the council should not spend public funds to do so, even if you haven’t got planning permission. After four years, if no enforcement action is taken against you, then ‘deemed planning permission’ applies and no enforcement action can be taken.

Aesthetics

The Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for planning nationally, issues planning guidance to councils which says that they should be supportive of the need for bike storage – provided it is designed in a discreet way that does not harm visual amenity. Thus, the best away to avoid an enforcement notice being served is to put up a bike shed that is not visually offensive and wouldn’t attract complaints from other residents.

Companies that sell cycle storage units, such as Trimetals have designed units in subdued natural tones to ensure they are as visually amenable as possible.

How other councils have dealt with the bicycle storage issue

If you have been issued an enforcement notice by your local planning authority, you can direct them towards this page and the examples from other local planning authorities who have resolved their own cycle storage issues.

  • Ealing Borough Council

Ealing Council had an almost identical conundrum as Brighton & Hove and many other local planning authorities: the Council’s transport planning department actively encouraged secure cycle parking in homes, yet the planning department required residents to apply for planning permission for cycle storage units in front gardens. The cost of the planning application was seen as prohibitive. Ealing Cycle Campaign produced a briefing note explaining when it is necessary to obtain planning permission, how the discouraging effect of the application fee could be mitigated, and what guidelines could help planning officers and residents handling this issue. 

The solution that emerged was that any planning applications needed for subsidised bike storage would be by the Council (and covered by the budget for cycling promotion) and would be consolidated into one planning application, which the Council would most likely grant.

  • Wandsworth Town Council

Wandsworth Town Council give guidance to residents on when they are unlikely to serve enforcement notices for cycle storage. The Wandsworth Housing Supplementary Planning Document, adopted in December 2012, states: ‘In view of the contribution of cycling to sustainable travel, bike stores may be acceptable in front gardens providing that they are minimum size necessary and they are located so as to minimise visual impact on the street. They are unlikely to be acceptable in very small front gardens, in conservation areas and where there is an Article 4 direction in place.’

  • The City of Edinburgh Council

Seven households who were refused permission to put up bike sheds in front gardens in Edinburgh contacted the cycle campaign group Spokes East Lothian for help. Spokes campaigned for the Council to change its stance. Edinburgh Council decided to relax its position on sheds in front gardens.

Spokes now has a degree of understanding with the Council on what may be acceptable, subject to several factors, but planning consent is still required in all cases and each case "will be judged on its merits" by the city planners. Edinburgh Council agreed to investigate the option of on-street bike storage for tenements.

Spokes worked with the Council to produce a factsheet for residents to advise them on how to store bikes in their front gardens. Spokes also have resources for Edinburgh cyclists who live in flats and tenements on their website.

Contact CDF

If you are affected by this piece of planning legislation and would like further advice or assistance, please contact CDF to discuss your case.

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