Court of Appeal backs council over 'deliberate concealment' case

A man who built a barn and then secretly turned it into his home has failed in a legal battle at London's Court of Appeal against an order that he must return the building to its intended use.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

A planning inspector found that David Bonsall had planned and executed a scheme to deceive Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and local residents into believing the barn at land on Common Lane at Thorpe Salvin, near Rotherham was just what it looked like for four years, in order to then rely on immunity from planning enforcement.

However, it was actually a windowless home with three bedrooms and four bathrooms, hidden by woodland, hedges and high gates.

Now three judges have rejected Bonsall’s legal challenge, which raised questions as to the approach taken when breaches of planning control are deliberately concealed for so long as to potentially trigger an immunity from planning control.

Giving the court’s ruling, Lord Justice Richards dismissed Bonsall’s appeal, together with that made in a similar case relating to a barn in Winchester where concealed development had taken place.

In both cases, it was found by the inspector and a High Court judge that local authorities were entitled to take enforcement action – in Bonsall’s case an enforcement notice requiring it to be turned back into a barn - despite laws stating that if a council fails to step in within four years it misses its chance to act against unlawful development.

Those decisions were based on a Supreme Court ruling that in cases of "deliberate concealment" the four year rule does not apply.

However, Bonsall’s lawyers argued at an appeal hearing last month that the inspector and the judge had adopted the wrong approach and that new legislation introduced by Parliament changed the situation and upstaged the Supreme Court ruling.

Lord Justice Richards, though, rejected that claim. He said that he found "nothing" in the particular circumstances of the cases before him, and the way in which "issues of deception" arose for consideration, to "cause any concern" about the continued ability of local authorities to rely on the Supreme Court rule on "concealment".

He said that he was satisfied that Parliament had not intended to remove the effect of that earlier decision in cases of "deliberate concealment", and that such a result is "consistent with the legislative objective of strengthening local planning authorities’ enforcement powers".

Bonsall v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Case Number: C1/2014/1402


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