There are so many ways in which modified shipping containers can provide much-needed solutions or funky innovations. They might be bars, gyms, homes, or glamping pods, to name just some of the myriad of possibilities.

However, one of the problems that you should always seek to avoid when obtaining shipping containers is neglecting to get planning permission. Because a container is not a conventional permanent structure in the manner of a brick-and-mortar building or a home extension, many are not aware that they need planning permission.

Indeed, planning law can be a complex thing; in some cases, extra restrictions can apply, such as if a location is in a conservation area or a national park. Even without this, however, it helps to know planning law, not least how it can apply to the use of shipping containers.

Failure to get permission can lead to property owners being ordered to pull down or remove structures, although one option is to seek retrospective planning permission.

This is exactly what is now happening in Suffolk, where plumbing firm Drain Doctor is seeking to keep four 20ft containers at its premises in the village of Bromeswell that were installed when the company moved there in August, the East Anglian Daily Times reported. The company did not realise planning permission was needed.

Drain Doctors is now hoping East Suffolk Council won’t pull the plug on this storage facility, which has power and light connected.

The risk with such a move is that someone may come to rely on the shipping containers and, as in this case, spend money on fixtures, fittings, or power connections in them, only to find all that has been wasted because they can’t get planning permission.

Moreover, some council decision-makers may take a dim view of a retrospective application just because those making it should have known the law in the first place. It remains to be seen if Drain Doctors will see its plans go down the U-bend.

Elsewhere in Suffolk, another organisation is showing exactly how to work within the law. In another East Anglian Daily Times article, it was noted how the Orwell Astronomical Society had successfully gained renewed permission from East Suffolk Council – the very authority to whom Drain Doctors are appealing – to carry on using their own converted container.

While focusing so much attention on the heavens above, the astronomers were well aware of what they needed to do back down on planet Earth, having gained permission in 2019 to use the container behind Newbourne Village Hall to store telescopes and other equipment for five years.

The decision at the time was treated as an interim one, with the society asked to find an alternative means of storage by the end of the period. However, thanks to the extensive planting of hazel and hawthorn bushes around the container, concerns about the visual impact of the container have been met.

It appears that while the plumbers fear their plans being washed away, the astronomers have shown themselves to be on a different planet when it comes to handling the issue of planning consent.

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