The Divisional Court has allowed an appeal by a Welsh council after the Crown Court held that charges the local authority laid against four defendants over alleged failures to comply with planning enforcement notices were defective.
In Ceredigion County Council v Robinson & Ors  EWHC 3425 (Admin) the county council appealed by way of case stated against the decision of the Crown Court sitting at Swansea on 15 November 2019.
The defendants were all charged as either being owners of, or having an interest in, forestry land at ‘Cornerwood’, Llangoedmor.
It was alleged by the prosecution that all defendants had failed to comply with three planning enforcement notices issued under s.172 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 relating to unlawful buildings and structures on the forestry land and their residential occupation of them.
The respondents were charged with offences under s. 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which makes it an offence for an owner or a person having control of or an interest in land to carry on any activity which they are required to cease by an enforcement notice.
The informations that were laid by Ceredigion did not identify expressly the date by and from which the relevant enforcement notices required compliance.
Relying upon the authority of Maltedge and Frost v Wokingham District Council  64 P & CR 487, the Crown Court held that this omission was a fatal defect.
The issue for the Divisional Court was whether the informations that were laid were defective such that the Court below was right to quash the convictions.
The Case Stated identified the questions for the Court as being:
1. Was the learned Judge wrong to find that the facts in this case were similar, if not identical, to Maltedge and Frost v Wokingham District Council  64 P & CR 487 and that he was bound by that case?
2. If that case was distinguishable, did the informations under consideration correctly aver the date of compliance with the enforcement notice by way of the use of the words "since the 11 February 2012" (that being the date of the compliance)?
3. In the alternative, is Maltedge no longer good law that the date of compliance with an enforcement notice is a material averment that must be pleaded because the wording of section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 has changed?
4. If so, did the charges adequately aver the date when criminality commenced, in accordance with the current wording of section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the case of Sanger v Newham London Borough Council  1 WLR 332?
5. Was the learned Judge wrong to find the charges defective for this reason?
The Divisional Court (Lord Justice Stuart-Smith and Mrs Justice Jefford) answer those questions as follows:
- No, “but it was not necessary to state the date of the end of the period for compliance”.
- See the answer to question 2.
- Yes. “And it should be noted that the date for the commencement of criminality is not necessarily the date upon which the period for compliance expires.”
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said: “Accordingly this appeal is allowed and the case should be remitted to the Crown Court to conduct the appeal in accordance with the principles identified in this judgment.”