Partner Karen Jones, in our Planning & Environmental Law team, looks at a case which offers a reminder of the importance of seeking legal advice when receiving an Enforcement Notice, Summons or Injunction in relation to your property.
Once an Enforcement Notice takes effect, whether following an unsuccessful appeal or where no appeal was lodged, time begins to run for compliance of the requirements therein. If the compliance period passes and the requirements of the Enforcement Notice have not been complied with a criminal offence will have been committed and the owner of the land, or the person with control of the land, is at risk of prosecution or further action by the Local Planning Authority to secure compliance.
In March 2014, the Forest of Dean District Council served an Enforcement Notice in respect of the following alleged breach of planning control:
“Without planning permission, the removal of topsoil and subsoil from the land, the creation of new land form and the reprofiling of the land so as to alter the natural ground level.
Without planning permission, operational development in the form of the construction of walls and the installation of drainage in connection with the proposed erection of a building on the area of land which has been excavated.”
The Enforcement Notice required the following steps to be carried out within three months of it taking effect: “remove from the land all structures, walls and materials placed on the land in connection with the breach and to reinstate the land to its original levels”
The owner of the relevant land unsuccessfully appealed the Enforcement Notice, however the Inspector did vary the Enforcement Notice to require compliance within two years of the appeal decision, instead of three months.
Following the receipt of the appeal decision, the owner took no steps to comply with the Enforcement Notice.
In 2018, the Council sought an Injunction requiring the owner to comply with the terms of the Enforcement Notice. It was accepted by the Council that the work required was likely to cost in the region of £750,000. Notwithstanding this significant financial hardship, the Court granted the Injunction requiring compliance within a further period of 18 months.
Injunctions are generally thought of as one of the more draconian remedies available and one of last resort. Courts do not entertain such applications lightly. The reason for this is that if a person fails to comply with an Injunction this would amount to contempt of Court and accordingly imprisonment is a potential outcome.
Following the period of 18 months granted by the Injunction and the owner having failed to comply with the terms of that injunction, the Council did then apply to the Court to commit the owner to prison.
According to the Forest of Dean Council, the Court imposed a six week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. The suspended sentence is conditional on the owner taking a number of steps within that period, including removing utility supplies such as electricity within 18 weeks.
This enforcement case has been long-running and only time will tell if the owner can avoid the imposed prison sentence. It providers a stark reminder of the possible consequences of breaching planning control consistently. It is important that if you do receive an Enforcement Notice, Summons, Injunction or any other legal document relating to your property that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.
You may also find our earlier blog articles on Enforcement Notices helpful: 'Enforcement Notices – Variations and Corrections' 'Enforcement Appeal and Costs', 'Breach of Planning Control - Enforcement Notices Explained', 'Planning Law and Enforcement Notices', 'Non Compliance With an Enforcement Notice – the Implications' and 'Planning Law - Enforcement Prosecution and Recent Examples of Fines'.
For further information or legal advice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.