Council upholds its promise to protect district’s built heritage with successful prosecution (East Devon District Council v Barry Anthony Wright)
An East Devon builder has been ordered to pay £20,120 in fines and costs for committing six listed building offences and one offence of failing to comply with an enforcement notice.
At a sentence hearing, which took place on Wednesday 28 October, at Exeter Magistrates Court, Barry Anthony Wright (who was represented legally) pleaded guilty to a total of seven criminal charges brought against him by East Devon District Council.
Six of the charges relate to unauthorised works (contrary to sections 9(1) and 9(2) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990), which were carried out by Mr Wright to Talewater Farm, a 16th Century, Grade II listed farmhouse, with 17th Century modernisation, at Talaton near Ottery St Mary.
These offences included:
- Removal of two 17th Century windows (one offence)
- Removal of an oak bressummer beam above a fireplace (one offence)
- Non compliance with some of the conditions attached to conditional listed building consent granted to Mr Wright in 2010 (see background below), including agreeing specification of plaster and render (two offences) and specification for the repairs to two plank and muntin screens (a medieval type of wall) (two offences)
The unauthorised works carried out by Mr Wright resulted in the destruction of original windows and other features of special historic interest throughout the building, which now cannot be replaced - even by enforcement.
The defence said that the farmhouse had been in the ownership of the Wright family for many generations and that they knew the building was listed.
Mr Wright pleaded guilty to a further offence, regarding his failure to comply with an enforcement notice (contrary to section 179(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), which the council issued on 29 March 2010, which required him to cease living in a holiday cottage, known as The Cellar, at Talewater Farm.
Mr Wright admitted that he continues to reside in the Cellar to the present day and stated that it was his family home.
Fines and costs
The seven offences each received a fine of £2,500 (total £17,500), plus £2,500 was awarded for prosecution costs, plus £120 victim surcharge was awarded. The total of fines and costs were: £20,120.
In 2010, Mr Wright, who is a professional builder with 25 years experience, applied to East Devon District Council for listed building consent to carry out renovation and related building works to Talewater Farm.
Conditional consent was granted for a substantial amount of works to the farmhouse. These pre-commencement conditions were that the specifications and materials to be used in the works had to be agreed with the local planning authority (East Devon District Council) in advance of Mr Wright starting the works. Copies of these conditions were given to the bench at the hearing.
In September 2014, Mr Wright made an application to discharge all of the conditions. Following which Stephen Guy, East Devon District Council’s Principal Conservation Officer, made a site visit and saw that works had already been carried out and were contrary to the approved plans.
Comment on the successful prosecution
These are serious criminal offences, which carry a maximum fine of £20,000 or a custodial sentence of up to a maximum of six months. So the decision to prosecute was not taken lightly. The destruction of the farmhouse’s rare mullion windows, which are irreplaceable, together with damage to the historic fabric, is a travesty that should never have taken place and the court viewed Mr Wright’s actions with a severity that was reflected in the size of the fines.
Buildings of special architectural or historic interest are listed for good reason, in that they are considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting. A listed building protects a building in its entirety and consent must be obtained for any alterations that would affect its character.
It is critical that people read and understand the conditions that are attached to listed building consents. Not enough people take the time to read them and they must. This case is a good example of an important part of the planning process that enables the council to check whether works to discharge conditions have or have not been followed.
We have many beautiful and historic buildings across East Devon and as a council we are committed to preserving the unique character of our built heritage. We hope that this successful prosecution will provide a valuable deterrent to the wilful damage or destruction of listed buildings by unscrupulous property owners and developers.