A timber merchants developing a former warehousing facility in the centre of Chelmsford has infuriated residents who claim work is continuing even though the company has been told it needs planning permission.

Residents of Longacre in Chelmsford have now accused Chelmsford City Council of sitting on its hands to avoid a legal challenge from PGR Timber, which argues it has permitted development rights to turn the building into storage and distribution.

With works, in the neighbouring Hanbury Road, starting at the beginning of June, concerns subsequently grew among residents – some of whom have back gardens less than seven meters from the development – when asbestos roofing was dismantled.

The issue has been further complicated thanks to what has been described as a poorly worded planning agreement for the site given planning consent for storage and distribution in 2006, prior to  the sale for £1.4m of the former Essex County Council Highways store.

The agreement deemed that the land to  the rear of the warehouse unit should not be used for car parking or any storage “in the interests of safeguarding local amenity and to control any potential ancillary impacts from the development”.

In reality this has meant that residents such as Neil Huckle, whose home now backs on to a large hole recently created in the back wall,  where HGVs are being anticipated to reverse through when they deliver materials, could see any other regular lorry movements, regardless of size.

He said: “I think the council are going to end up in court one way of another through their negligence and through the fact they haven’t implemented the letter of the law.

“I think at the beginning we were just busy bodies making a bit of noise and we’ll go away.

“I think they now realise we are not going away and we are not stupid. They need to be doing things properly which is why finally they have accepted the site is a development.

“It’s ludicrous. They are letting them carry on as we speak.

“That is a site that they have said requires planning permission. There is no planning permission so why are they still there?”

The council was first made aware of the works on June 3,  at which point an access in the northern wall, a hole big  enough for large lorries to drive through, had been created.

And although this was assessed to amount to permitted development, further works, including the removal of windows and intended cladding,  have now been undertaken.

Because of this the  council now judges a threshold to have been crossed, leaving the cumulative effect requiring full planning consent.

The developer has since submitted an application of lawful development to determine whether the proposed use of land and buildings as a timber and builders would be lawful.

They add that works have stopped, save for those necessary to the roof of one building.

Mr Huckle added that a slim parcel of “no man’s land” between the properties in Longacre and the rear of this building has been bought by the new owners, indicating they intend to go right up to his boundary.

He said: “Even more wrongly, they  have also bought a parcel of green belt land to the side of the property, that will now allow vehicles to fit round the back.

“The council are telling us this is a development that requires a full planning application, what we are worried about is from the application of lawful development.

“What is the council is going to tick off what’s lawful and what isn’t?”

Vicky Ford has also been in touch with the council after meeting residents setting out her concerns “for the safety of residents and possible asbestos pollution”.

The Chelmsford MP added: “Furthermore, my understanding is that the original planning permission for this building was for a warehouse facility with a full brick rear wall on the back on the residential side of the building and a buffer barrier of trees were planted between the industrial building and the residential properties.

“No activities took place between the buildings and the residential properties,  there were no vehicle movements permitted in the industrial building.

“Over the interim period there has been a creeping change of use, the trees have been removed and vehicles began to be parked in the industrial building.

“There has not been a formal consultation with local residents to enable them to make their concerns to the planning authorities heard.”

A spokesman for PGR said any asbestos removal on this site has been undertaken by a specialist contractor and that these works have also been regularly inspected by Chelmsford Council’s public health department and the Health and Safety Executive.

He added: “I can also confirm that we are in open discussions with the planning department and no breach in planning has occurred. The current re-roofing works are being undertaken with their full knowledge.”

A spokesman for Chelmsford City Council said the permitted development rights cannot be removed because they had already started.

They added that a temporary stop notice is not required because the developer has agreed to stop.