A recent case has shown that a failure to comply with planning law can have serious consequences. Ali Williams reports as follows -
Last month, three individuals were sentenced to four months imprisonment for their failure to comply with an injunction and, although the sentences were set aside on appeal, a heavy fine was imposed instead.
The three appellants owned a plot of land which had been occupied by caravans, and the local planning authority had obtained an injunction requiring the appellants to clear the site by June 2013, to restore the land by topsoiling and reseeding it and to not permit any further occupation of the land. The appellants failed to comply and so the local planning authority applied for them to be committed to prison.
At the hearing, the first appellant submitted that he no longer owned the freehold of the land. The remaining two appellants accepted that they owned the site; however, they argued that the occupation by the caravan was controlled by a company over which they had no control, although they did receive rent from this company. The judge rejected the defences and sentenced the three appellants to four months’ imprisonment.
On appeal, the appellants argued that the sentence was excessive and that they had since complied with the injunction, accepted responsibility for control of the land and apologised to the court. The Court of Appeal stated that the judge, acting on the facts as they were at the time, had been entitled to impose custodial sentences for flagrant breaches of the injunction. As the appellants had subsequently complied with the terms of the injunction, a custodial sentence was excessive; however, it was appropriate to impose a significant financial penalty and the appellants were ordered to pay a fine of £20,000.
The case serves as a reminder of the importance of complying with enforcement notices and injunctions from local planning authorities.