While many people know that local authorities can take enforcement action in respect of breaches of planning control, not everyone is aware that a breach of planning requirements is also a criminal offence, or that Local Planning Authorities also have powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) to confiscate any financial gains which are made as a result of the breach of planning controls. As the use of POCA can lead to much greater penalties being imposed than the relatively nominal fines usually associated with planning offences, increasingly Local Planning Authorities are looking very carefully at cases where this can be applied.
Examples of cases where this has actually happened include a case where the owners of a car park in Bishops Stortford which had limited planning permission. They allowed the use of the site as a car park on match days of Bishops Stortford Football Club but also operated it as a park and ride car park for Stansted Airport, contrary to the terms of the permission granted. In that case a confiscation order for 760,000 was made, with the confiscation order being based on the amount of turnover derived from the unlawful criminal activity rather than just the net profit made.
Other cases have involved unlawful changes of use to dwelling-houses, and a landlord in the London Borough of Haringay who had been unlawfully renting out rooms in a house to multiple individuals. This was without the necessary consent required to operate a House in Multiple Occupation and therefore was the subject of a confiscation order for 310,000 based on the gross rent he had received as a result of his criminal activity. Another case involved a developer in the London Borough of Hounslow who had unlawfully converted 3 houses into flats who was the subjected to a confiscation order for 180,000.
The Courts have been very clear in sending out the message that disregarding planning requirements is to be treated as a very serious matter and therefore any financial gain made as a result of such a breach is at risk of being confiscated.
If you are at risk of planning enforcement action being taken against you, please contact [email protected] at the earliest opportunity, as we can investigate and negotiate with the local planning authority to try to reduce the risk of this happening to you.
Please note this article is written for general information and guidance as doesn’t constitute specific legal advice.