Tue, 24 Mar 2020
It is notoriously difficult to predict the level of fines in planning cases. Not least because the guidelines are unhelpfully broad.
This case concerns and unauthorised extension to an end of terrace property. The defendant applied for retrospective planning permission, which was refused. The council served an enforcement notice, which was not obeyed. Upon conviction, the defendant was sentenced to a fine of £15,000 which he appealed. The appeal was dismissed and the fine was upheld. Indeed, it was intimated that a higher fine might have been appropriate.
It was common ground that there was no financial gain arising from the offence.
The sentencing judge had properly considered the 2 key factors: culpability and harm. In respect of culpability it was recognised that the defendant had displayed a “cavalier approach to planning” and ignored the notice for a “very, very, very long period of time”. In respect of harm, the unauthorised extension had an adverse impact on neighbours and was incongruent with the character and appearance of the area.
Put simply, the appeal proceeded upon the basis that given that there was no financial gain the fine was excessive. That contention was rejected as the court made clear that financial gain is but one matter which goes into the mix when reaching an apt sentence.
What is the “take-away” from this case? The judgement underlines that the courts take planning offences seriously. Just because there is no financial benefit arising from the breach, does not mean that the court will impose a modest fine.
It was an unusual feature of the case that at the original sentencing hearing, the prosecutor had suggested a fine of £10,000, without explaining how that figure was arrived at. The court does not appear to have placed much weight upon that suggestion and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said that the estimate was “irrelevant”. That was a generous construction on matters. It is the view of the author that it is not the place of a prosecutor to suggest a particular sentence.