It feels bad to say it, but our conclusion is that perhaps local planning and building regulation is not a fair process. I hoped for better from Kiruna.
Here’s how it works.
We’ve run a bed and breakfast for six years in our home in a residential street. When we bought the property we didn’t make any alterations to the house because we have people to stay in our home just like any family members would. Before we started we checked all the rules and regulations. We registered for, and we pay the proper tax. We put a sign up outside. We’re all ‘above board’.
Six years later we were notified in the post that someone had anonymously reported us as operating a hotel without planning permission.
Excuse me, planning permission?
We were puzzled, and a bit disturbed. Still, we filled in all the forms as requested, describing what we’d been doing, and explaining that no part of our house had been changed.
Then followed an eight month silence, during which time we tried to find out whether there was some small print regulation we were offending against by mistake. We didn’t find anything, but were still worried. Were they going to shut us down? Should we cancel our bookings?
Then we got a letter saying that because we might be operating a hotel without planning permission someone was coming to inspect the property – in just four days’ time. Note the long notice.
We had no idea what they were coming to inspect, but we were there to invite two men from the planning department into our house and ask them what they wanted to see. They indicated the upstairs, so we followed them up. But upstairs they had no interest in looking at any of the rooms or any of the facilities. Instead, they leaned against the worktop and gave us a lecture on how we ought to have applied for planning permission when we first opened.
‘Planning permission for what?’ we asked, not unreasonably.
‘To run a bed and breakfast’, they said.
‘But what planning rule have we offended?’
‘Ah,’ they said, as if unwilling to reveal the secret mysteries of the planning department, ‘it’s very complicated – it isn’t clear.’
It isn’t clear??
Then they told us that a committee of local politicians (note, not council people paid to apply known regulations, but politicians who just have an opinion about it) would meet to discuss our case and decide if we had to pay a fine.
‘A fine? For what?’
‘For not following the rules’, they said.
The rules they couldn’t tell us about, because they’re not really clear. Oh, those rules.
There’s been this threat hanging over us for a year now, over nothing that anyone can explain to us. And they still haven’t written to tell us we needn’t worry as it was all some mistake, which we must assume to be the case.
Now, by way of comparison, let’s take another important matter that has passed through Kiruna’s planning department this year – the building of the new, year-round Ice Hotel, a large permanent building on the banks of the Torne river.
After it got planning permission and was built, some neighbours complained that the building was contrary to local planning regulations, and because the decision had already been made by Kiruna’s planning office local people appealed to a higher court. The higher court agreed with them and overruled Kiruna’s decisions. Now that would be something to worry about you’d think – a bit more of an issue than a two room bed and breakfast which didn’t build anything at all.
But no, not at all. The Ice Hotel isn’t the least bit worried, because, they say, smiling to the camera, the local planning department will just change the regulations, and then they won’t be breaking the rules any more. No mysteries there then. Problem sorted!