FURTHER details of the planning breaches at Dominic Cummings’ lockdown cottage have emerged after The Northern Echo exclusively obtained a copy of the investigation report.
[Readers can always watch the “Durham Dash – A Song for Dominic Cummings” to cheer themselves up – Owl]
The Durham County Council inquiry shows the house the Prime Minister’s chief aide helped to build on his family farm was in breach of planning laws.
Durham County Council found several infringements following three visits to North Lodge Farm on the A167, near Durham, but concluded enforcement action could not be taken because changes were made too long ago.
The cottage the political strategist used during his trip to the region was a former barn or storage area and was converted in 2002, after Mr Cummings quit his job as director of strategy for the Conservative Party.
It is understood Mr Cummings built the ‘bunker’ with his father during a two year hiatus from politics.
The unauthorised change of use for the building is now immune from enforcement action by the planning authority but may still be liable for council tax.
Dominic Cummings leaves Downing Street
Investigating officers found there was no planning history at all relating to the building, but believe it was already on the site when the Cummings family bought the land in 1999.
The report said: “The building has been partly converted to a self-contained unit of accommodation comprising two bed, bathroom, kitchen and lounge area in or around 2002.
“The conversion works comprised the removal of openings, installation of windows and doors and internal fit out.
“Invoices relating to the materials for the conversion work verify the approximate date of conversion.
“The remainder of the building (northern part) remains a garage/store and has not been subject to any conversion works. The building is understood to be occupied on an infrequent basis (approximately four weeks in any given year, by family).”
Planning inspectors also found the main property on the farm had been extended without planning permission with a porch built in breach of regulations and a ‘pod’ extension near the family’s swimming pool.
Studies of aerial photography as part of the investigation also revealed the curtilage of the property has also been increased to specifically include the area that now contains the cottage.
The author of the report, which was redacted in the copy seen by The Northern Echo, said there was no evidence to suggest either deliberate concealment or deception have taken place.
The author concludes: “Whilst there have been historic breaches of planning control relating to two extensions to the principal dwelling, building works to the cottage as well as a change of use of agricultural land to garden, these breaches are all now beyond the period in which enforcement action can be taken and are therefore immune.
“I therefore recommend that the case file be closed as there are no breaches of planning control against which enforcement action can now be taken.”
Durham County Council has said the issue of whether the cottage is liable for council tax has been referred to the Valuation Agency Officer, part of HMRC, which will not comment on individual cases.
Durham County Councillor John Shuttleworth, who sits on three of the council’s planning committees, said: “If he (Dominic Cummings) has tried avoid council tax he should be made to pay it.
“Anybody else would so what is the difference.
“This guy is running the country. You have got to be above it and be squeaky clean.”
It is understood Mr Cummings is a co-owner of the property helped build the cottage between quitting the Tory Party led by Iain Duncan Smith in 2002, and leading campaign against regional devolution in 2004, a precursor for his success with Vote Leave 12 years later.
The investigation was launched into the planning issues at the family property after Durham County Council received 18 complaints in the wake of the furore surrounding his trip to the region.
Durham City MP Mary Foy said: “I would like to thank Durham County Council officers for the speedy and professional way they have looked into this matter, but even though this report indicates that some breaches of planning regulations had taken place, the current time limits on enforcement mean that no action can be taken.
“This may be the case, but it’s very troubling that the Prime Minister indicated in his speech on Tuesday June 30 that the Government is planning to relax planning regulations even further, ostensibly to get the economy moving again.
“Rather than give carte blanche for developers to convert even more existing commercial buildings to residential without planning permission, and make it easier for people to carry out the sort of inappropriate development highlighted in this report, the Government should be increasing funding to planning departments to make sure that plans are properly scrutinised, and new buildings are fit for purpose.”
Mr Cummings was heavily criticised for leaving London to bring his wife, to Durham while they were both suffering from coronavirus symptoms in case they needed childcare for their four-year-old son.
Mr Cummings was also ridiculed for claiming a trip to Barnard Castle on Easter Sunday, which coincided with his wife’s birthday, was to see if he could drive having experienced problems with his eyesight.
A subsequent inquiry by Durham Constabulary found the initial trip did not breach Government restrictions but the trip ‘might’ have warranted a minor breach’.
A judicial review is now being sought over the failure of the director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, to investigate Mr Cummings for alleged breaches of lockdown rules.
Mr Hill has said it is a police matter, but the man behind the challenge, Martin Redston, has said the DPP has shown insufficient independence from the Government regarding the actions of Boris Johnson’s adviser.
A legal team, headed by the barrister Michael Mansfield, has now begun legal proceedings in the High Court.
The Cummings family have declined the opportunity to comment.