The licensees of a Derbyshire Dales pub have been fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay £600 costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of a planning enforcement notice for failing to remove a static caravan from their premises.
Stuart and Jean Coxon, of the Okeover Arms at Mappleton, near Ashbourne, were prosecuted by Derbyshire Dales District Council after failing to remove the caravan and reinstate the site to its former condition by the deadline of 3 August last year.
Derby Magistrates' Court heard the case last Thursday and determined that the District Council had been more than reasonable in allowing additional time for the Coxons to move the caravan before pursuing prosecution.
In mitigation, Mr and Mrs Coxon stated that the caravan, which had at one time been used by their daughter, had been up for sale for a long time but they had found difficulty selling it due to the time of year.
They were told by the court that they had been given more than enough time to comply with the enforcement notice and must look at other options to remove the static caravan or put it into storage.
Each defendant was fined £5,000 and £300 costs, with a £170 victim surcharge.
The District Council did not impose the fine on Mr and Mrs Coxon, nor do we benefit in any way from the fine monies. The petition therefore started by Becky Startin, who lived in the caravan from May 2016 to October 2017, is invalid, as we have no powers to change the Court's sentencing decision.
We would point out that taking a case such as this to Court is a last - not a first - resort. Our officers have been talking with Mr and Mrs Coxon from virtually the first day they introduced the static caravan to their premises without planning consent almost two years ago. When they didn't act on the advice of our planning officers to move the caravan, we had no option but to present each of them with an enforcement notice, requiring them to take action. They appealed against this notice to an independent Planning Inspector and lost. Despite attempts to screen the caravan, the Inspector ruled that it was still visible from the public highway, car park and gardens and determined that “its modern appearance and materials contrast harshly with the historic and architectural character of a listed building matters which diminish the public appreciation of the heritage asset”.
The Planning Inspector upheld the Enforcement Notice on 3rd July 2017 and required removal of the mobile home and reinstatement of the land by 3rd August 2017. The Council’s Enforcement Officer corresponded with the owners of the Okeover Arms following the decision, warning that if the caravan was not moved the Council would prosecute for non-compliance. Site visits were undertaken on both 31st August 2017 and 16th October 2017 and still no action was taken by the owners. Our only remaining option was to take the matter to Court, and both Mr & Mrs Coxon pleaded guilty to the charges of failing to comply with an Enforcement Notice.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 requires, “in determining the amount of any fine to be imposed on a person convicted of an offence, the court, shall in particular have regard to any financial benefit which has accrued or appears likely to accrue to him in consequence of the offence”.
The Court, in making its judgement, was aware that Mr & Mrs Coxon made the decision, without planning permission, to bring the static caravan onto the site in May 2016 for their daughter to live in as they were letting out the rooms in the pub. In the 17 months that Ms Startin lived in the caravan, Mr and Mrs Coxon rented out a room at the pub on a commercial basis at a rate of £525 per week and they continued to permit the caravan to remain on site despite the Planning Inspector’s decision and warnings of prosecution. The Court determined that Mr & Mrs Coxon had been given every opportunity by the Council to remove the caravan before it was brought before the Courts and were warned that they must comply with the notice. As of yesterday, the caravan was still in situ at the Okeover Arms and we will be talking again to Mr and Mrs Coxon as a matter of urgency about their plans to move it.
The Council does not take the decision to prosecute lightly. However, as the local planning authority, it has a duty to enforce and seek to resolve breaches of planning control.