Homeowner Pays Price for Unauthorised Subterranean Leisure Development

Judges play a crucial enforcement role in the planning process and those who fail to comply with their orders can expect stern punishment. In one case, a homeowner who breached planning control when he built a huge subterranean leisure facility under his garden received a suspended prison sentence.

The man spent about £1 million constructing the building, which incorporated a sports hall, gym, tenpin bowling alley, casino bar and children's play area. He contended that it was a permitted development, not requiring formal planning permission, but the local authority for the area took the contrary view.

The council issued an enforcement notice requiring him to remove all structures, walls and materials from the site and to restore the ground to its natural level. It asserted that the development created a risk of ground instability in an area of historic mining activity and that above-ground elements of the building had an overbearing impact on their surroundings.

The man appealed against the notice, without success, to a planning inspector who described the building as a very large, bulky structure that was totally out of scale and proportion with others in the area. He said that, in his view, the bland design of above-ground structures was very poor. The man's High Court challenge to the inspector's decision was also rejected.

After he failed to comply with the notice – a task that it was agreed would cost in the region of £750,000 – the council obtained an injunction against him. A judge found that the building amounted to a clear breach of planning control and impacted adversely on neighbouring properties and the character of the landscape.

The judge noted that the man knew before or within a couple of months of starting work on the building that the council took the view that it would not constitute permitted development and was unlikely to be given planning permission. He proceeded with the project at his own risk, in the knowledge that, if the council's view was correct, he might have to demolish the building.

On the basis that he had failed to meet an 18-month deadline for compliance with the injunction, the council launched further proceedings, seeking his committal to prison for contempt of court. After he candidly admitted that, for various reasons, the works required by the injunction had not been completed, the Court imposed a six-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

The suspension was conditional on the man stripping out the interior of the building and disconnecting its electricity and water supplies within 18 weeks. The enforcement notice and the injunction remained in force.