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High court judges reject Chorleywood homeowner David Lewis's bid to overturn housing development ban
The owner of a house in Chorleywood who was fined more than £21,000 for six breaches of a ban on development there has failed at the High Court to overturn the ban.
A "stop notice" banning the development was imposed on David Lewis by Three Rivers District Council, and when he breached it the council prosecuted him.
At the High Court though Lewis claimed the magistrates who fined him a total of £21,500 for six breaches had no jurisdiction to consider six separate charges of breach of the one stop notice. He argued that he could only be charged once under the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act.
He also claimed that the total £21,500 fine issued exceeded the maximum of £20,000 for a single breach under the Act.
However, two of the country’s top judges, Mr Justice Silber, sitting with Lord Justice Richards in London, threw out his appeal, ruling that the council was entitled to prosecute him on six separate charges, relating to work carried out by contractors at the property between February 15 and 21, 2012.
Lewis was given planning permission in March 2010 to build three two-bedroom houses at 81 Quickley Lane, Chorleywood.
However, the council claimed he had started work before conditions were met and departed from the plans. It issued the stop notice on February 13 2012, banning further work on the site.
It then took him to court on six charges, two relating to work carried out on February 15, three relating to work between February 15 and February 20, and a final charge relating to February 21.
Judge Gulick and two lay magistrates at St Albans Magistrates Court convicted him and fined him £3,500 for each charge on August 3, 2012. That decision was upheld on December 19, 2012 by St Albans Crown Court.
In the High Court though Mr Lewis, who argued the case in person, claimed the magistrates only had jurisdiction to consider one charge, and should have dismissed the other five.
He claimed it was "absurd" that the local authority could charge him separately for every breach, and thereby avoid the maximum fine of £20,000.
However, the judge backed the crown court's opinion that to allow the appeal would make a "nonsense" of the legislation, as it would give a developer the right to do what he wanted after he had been charged once.
Giving the ruling of the court, Mr Justice Silber said that, if Mr Lewis were correct then, if a developer were charged and then acquitted, there could be no further prosecution for other breaches and the stop notice could be disregarded with impunity.
Upholding the earlier decisions, he ruled that the council was entitled to bring the six charges and that there was no limitation on the total fines that can be imposed for multiple breaches provided any individual fine does not exceed the £20,000 maximum.
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