Two local residents found guilty of planning breach in Drybrook

After a detailed investigation led by the Planning Enforcement team at the Forest of Dean District Council, the council has prosecuted two individuals for breaching a Planning Enforcement Notice under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Michelle Hicks of The Squirrels, Drybrook and Paul Hicks of Cinderford pleaded guilty at Cheltenham Magistrates Court on 1 April 2019 and the case was referred to Gloucester Crown Court for sentencing.

Mr and Miss Hicks were granted planning permission in 2008 to build a kitchen extension with en-suite bedroom upstairs on the side of their house in The Squirrels.

Yesterday, their lawyer told the judge that Mr Hicks, a bricklayer, never built what he had permission for and instead constructed the extension as a completely separate unit, which his daughter then rented out.

The separate residential use of the extension breached planning conditions attached to the building.

The couple were served with an Enforcement Notice by the council’s Planning Enforcement team in 2010, requiring them to connect the annexe to the house in line with their planning permission.

In 2013, the council told Mr and Miss Hicks that it was satisfied they had done the works to comply, but another visit by an enforcement officer four years later in 2017 found that they were still in breach of the Notice.

Mr and Miss Hicks engaged a planning agent, who told planners that there were now openings between the extension and the house. However, when investigators carried out their site visits, they found that the only way they could access the main house from the extension was to shuffle sideways through a narrow doorway installed between kitchen units.

Officers went upstairs via a steep spiral staircase and found that the en-suite bedroom was connected to a bedroom in the main house via a double depth doorway that allowed the doors on each side of the house to be locked.

Mr and Miss Hicks were give a further chance to comply with the Enforcement Notice. When they failed to do this, council lawyers decided to prosecute them for the criminal offence of breaching the Notice.

On 26 September 2019 at Gloucester Crown Court Michelle Hicks was ordered under the Proceeds of Crime Act to pay £17,508.92 from the income she made from committing the offence and both defendants were ordered to pay the council’s full costs of £9,120. These are in addition to the costs incurred in putting right the building to ensure that the development undertaken complied with the original planning permission.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act (PoCA) an offender can be ordered to pay back all the income they have made from an offence. If they fail to do this within three months they risk being imprisoned.

This is the first time that the council’s Planning Enforcement team has used the Proceeds of Crime Act.

They worked closely with a Financial Investigator from Gloucestershire County Council’s Trading Standards Service and the Counter Fraud Unit to bring the case to court. The county council and the district council can be paid a share of any of the money that is confiscated by the court against an individual under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This share goes to the council which will then be reinvested into future enforcement work.

Peter Williams, Head of Paid Service at the Forest of Dean District Council said, “This case demonstrates the sometimes lengthy timescales required to bring breaches of planning control to a satisfactory resolution, in this case it was nine years. However, the council is committed to pursuing unacceptable breaches of planning control to ensure the character and visual amenity of the local area is protected and to provide suitable living environments for people.

“Officers from our planning department had repeatedly tried to work with Mr and Miss Hicks to resolve the issues over a period of years, but when it became apparent the individuals were not prepared to comply with the legislation we had no choice but to take legal action.

“The PoCA provisions should serve as a warning to anyone that criminal activity in breach of planning controls can come at significant cost.”

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