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No Sex Please: We Are British

Alex Ground, Partner at Russell-Cooke, comments on creating retail units in a residential area

Opening a new retail unit in the heart of a residential area is not always easy, as one couple from Surrey proved earlier this month. The couple, who co-owned a sex dungeon, the Kestel Hydro Naturist Spa, were ordered to pay £45,000 after having numerous complaints made about them to the local Council. The established private members’ sex club where visitors had to remain naked (bar flip-flops) was ordered to close its doors after the Council ruled the site was 'inappropriate' for a residential area.

However it's not only the owners of property put to controversial use that can suffer from planning enforcement, a business operator that carries out inadequate planning due diligence can also be penalised. To avoid run-ins with the law, small prospective retail business owners should take into account the potential risks before opening their doors, especially when they think they’ve found their perfect site in the heart of a residential area.

Most commonly there will be an express unconditional planning permission for the existing use and even if this matches what you also intend to do, more likely than not there will be some on-going planning conditions that have to be satisfied such as opening hours, refuge collection and delivery times. Opening hours and times for deliveries are often tightly controlled in residential areas and you need to check if that works financially for your new business.

In some instances though planning permission can either be temporary or personal to the current user, and in both situations may lead to a scenario where the property reverts to its previous lawful use or is left with no lawful use at all – a nil use.

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