Expert View: When planning bites back

Michael Fearn, Rumball Sedgwick

Michael Fearn, Rumball Sedgwick - Credit: Archant

Michael Fearn, Chartered Town Planner, of St Albans and Watford based chartered surveyors, Rumball Sedgwick, considers the huge penalties that can be imposed for carrying out unauthorised works to property.

Abuses of planning controls are not something that most people would view as being particularly serious, but some councils are increasingly using legislation originally brought in to control money-laundering and drug trafficking for other purposes. Once a criminal conviction has been secured for the breach of planning control, using the Proceeds of Crime Act, the courts can confiscate any financial gain that the defendant might have made.

Some councils are using such legislation to target ‘rogue landlords’ converting houses into flats without authorisation. In 2012, a £1.4 million fine was imposed on a north-west London landlord who had converted a house into 12 flats without planning permission.

Recently, the conversion without planning permission of a house in Uxbridge into two flats resulted in a criminal conviction, a £1,000 fine and the order to pay the Council’s costs of £7,000. However, the ‘sting in the tail’ was the confiscation order of £100,000, requiring the payment of the sum within three months or the prospect of going to jail for four months.

In another case, in Dorset, a businessman felled a protected tree in a neighbour’s garden in order to improve the sea views from his home. The gain in value to his home was estimated at £50,000 and he was ordered to pay this by the Court, plus other costs and fines amounting to a further £75,000. And, a new tree had to be replanted in its place.

When is a hay stack not a hay stack? When there’s a castle inside!

These cases, like the farmer who built himself a castle hidden behind a pile of straw bales, (and was then forced to demolish it) are of course extreme examples, where people have deliberately set out to deceive or profit from illegal activity. But a great many breaches of planning control are more inadvertent or accidental: they often result from, say, a builder misreading approved plans, or from successful commercial businesses that intensify their activity over time without realising the planning breach arising as a result.

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So keeping within the planning system and working with an expert to achieve your property goals could save you a fortune.

For planning advice contact Michael at Rumball Sedgwick on 01727 519140 or at