£26,000 secret flat bill

By Mark Elson   |   Senior Reporter   |
Wednesday 2nd October 2019 8:14 am
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A sideways shuffle was needed to get through the narrow doorway. ()

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A FATHER and his daughter who built a secret flat which was then rented out have been ordered to pay more than £26,000 in penalties for breaching planning rules.

The Forest Council’s Planning Enforcement team took bricklayer Paul Hicks and daughter Michelle Hicks to court after an investigation uncovered that instead of building a permitted kitchen and en-suite bedroom extension at No 1, The Squirrels, in Drybrook 10 years ago, they constructed separate living quarters.

Michelle Hicks must pay back more than £17,000 for profiting from renting out the flat, in the first Forest Council prosecution under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Gloucester Crown Court heard last Thursday (September 26) that the pair were served with an enforcement notice in 2010 to connect the annexe to the house after breaching planning permission granted in 2008.

Their lawyer told the judge that the father did not build what he had permission for and instead constructed the extension as “a completely separate unit” which his daughter then rented out.

Work was undertaken which initially satisfied planning officers in 2013, but a check up visit four years later discovered that the extension was effectively a separate annexe again.

Another enforcement notice in 2017 led to claims that the work had been done, but investigators who visited the property decided otherwise..

The court heard that the duo engaged a planning agent, who told planners there were now openings between the extension and the house joining the two.

“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,” said a council spokesperson.

“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.”

The duo were given yet another chance to comply, but after nine years, the council finally ran out of patience when they ignored the warning again.

Michelle Hicks and Paul Hicks admitted breaching an enforcement notice when they first appeared at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court on April 1.

The daughter must repay £17,508.92 within three months from the rental income she made, or risks being imprisoned under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

She and her father were also ordered to pay the council’s full costs of £9,120, on top of the costs incurred in putting right the building to ensure that the development undertaken complies with the original planning permission.

Peter Williams, Head of Paid Service at the Forest Council, said: “This case demonstrates the sometimes lengthy timescales required to bring breaches of planning control to a satisfactory resolution, in this case 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 Proceeds of Crime Act provisions should serve as a warning to anyone that criminal activity in breach of planning controls can come at significant cost.”

A council spokesperson added that the authority had worked closely with a financial investigator from Gloucestershire County Council’s Trading Standards Service and the Counter Fraud Unit to prosecute the case.

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, which will then be reinvested into future enforcement work.

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