Couple’s court victory as judge criticises ‘draconian consequences’ of council action

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A Henfield couple have been awarded more than £18,000 in a High Court challenge over two enforcement notices issued by Horsham District Council.

Mr Justice Leggatt, sitting in London, quashed the two notices issued in December 2011 which alleged that Brian Stern, who lives with his wife at The Barn on Wheatsheaf Road, was making residential use of parts of The Barn that are officially supposed to be for storage.

One notice required him to permanently cease residential use of parts of the property and remove all furniture and domestic appliances from those areas along with fixtures and fittings.

The second notice demanded that he remove a fire escape, doors and windows and restore The Barn to its former condition. Both set a six month time limit for the works to be carried out.

However, Mr Stern sought judicial review of the decision claiming that the enforcement notices were invalid as they were not served in compliance with rules under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Both enforcement notices stated that they came into effect on January 4 2012, but in order for that to be the case, the rules required them to have been served to Mr Stern on December 6 2011. They were sent by first class post on that date, but not received by Mr Stern until December 9.

Under the Act, anyone receiving enforcement notices has a strict 28 day time limit to appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s Planning Inspectorate.

Now the judge has ruled that the notices were issued in breach of section 172 of the Act.

He said: “An enforcement notice is a strong thing. Failure to comply with it leads to very severe consequences. Non-compliance is a criminal offence.”

He said that it would be ‘fundamentally unfair and illogical’ for Mr Stern to face ‘draconian consequences’ as a result of the council’s error.

The judge ordered the council to pay Mr Stern’s legal costs of £18,665.