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The Law Has Sharp Teeth When Tackling Breaches of Planning Control

Those who treat planning rules as a mere inconvenience in the belief that they can breach them with impunity are operating under an illusion . The Court of Appeal made that point in upholding heavy fines imposed on a property company and its sole active director in a case of obdurate disobedience to enforcement notices.

The case concerned a Victorian commercial building, the majority of which is Grade II listed. After acquiring the property, the company removed timber shopfronts without planning permission and installed painted metal replacements. The local authority issued planning and listed building enforcement notices, requiring reinstatement of the shopfronts to their original design.

More than three years after the deadline set for compliance with the notices passed, remedial works had still not been carried out. The council prosecuted the company and the director and both pleaded guilty to planning offences. Sentencing was deferred and they belatedly complied with the notices, spending £60-70,000 on completing the restoration work to the council's satisfaction.

Despite that, a judge took a dim view of their past conduct and ordered each of them to pay a £25,000 fine, together with £10,700 in legal costs. The judge said that they had for years considered the notices an insignificant matter and had not been prepared to commit the funds needed to comply with them.

Challenging the fines as excessive, they argued that they should have received more credit for their guilty pleas and their eventual compliance with the notices. They also submitted that the judge took too high a starting point when setting the level of the fines.

Dismissing their appeals, however, the Court found that the attempt to avoid the cost of compliance, combined with years of stubborn disobedience to the notices, amply justified the company's fine. The director was not the occupier of the premises and did not directly receive a benefit. However, he was the controlling mind behind the company and caused it to commit the offences. His fine could not be regarded as excessive.