In a ruling which clarified a tricky area of the law and established that planning enforcement notices cannot be challenged in criminal proceedings, landlords who were convicted of letting holiday flats to long-term tenants have been precluded from arguing that their prosecution was an abuse of process.
The five flats were subject to planning consents which only permitted their use as holiday or short-term lets. Following breaches of that condition an enforcement notice was issued and confirmed by a planning inspector in 1998.
The notice remained in force when the landlords bought the properties in 2006. They were prosecuted after the local authority discovered that long-term tenants were living in the flats. They argued that the prosecution was an abuse of process in that the original enforcement notice was invalid because the flats had been occupied by permanent tenants for more than four years before it was issued.
The landlords pleaded guilty after a judge rejected those arguments. However, they challenged their convictions before the Court of Appeal, claiming that the local authority had been aware in 1998 of information which showed that the flats had an established use for long-term lettings. That information had allegedly been suppressed in the hearing before the planning inspector.
In dismissing the landlords’ appeal, the Court found that the judge had rightly concluded that he had no jurisdiction to consider their abuse of process arguments in the light of Section 285(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The only avenue by which the landlords could pursue their challenge to the validity of the notice was to launch judicial review proceedings in the Administrative Court.
The Court concluded, “However inconvenient it may be to have to challenge the order in proceedings other than the criminal process itself, that is in our view the effect of the law by which this court is bound.” The landlords’ case was remitted to the Crown Court for sentencing.