Sentence passed in Graham Wildin planning court case following long running legal battle
Forest of Dean District Council has today been successful in a contempt of court application against Mr Graham Wildin for a breach of planning laws with a sentence passed by the High Court in Cardiff.
Following a series of warnings, in November 2018 the Council obtained an injunction against Mr Wildin and he had until 25th April 2020 to demolish a leisure building he built in 2014 without planning permission and return the land to its original state. He was warned that if he disobeyed the injunction, he could be held to be in contempt of court, imprisoned and have his assets seized.
When planning officers visited the site in 2020, they found that no action had been taken to comply with the injunction. When they returned to the site after the first Covid-19 lockdown, they saw that additional works had started to construct a building to house a swimming pool next to the leisure building.
When the Council first had reports of building works in 2013, Mr Wildin received advice that the building he planned to construct required planning permission and that to continue with its development would be unlawful. Since then, the Council’s position has been continually upheld. First by the Planning Inspectorate and subsequently by two High Court Judges, all of whom Mr Wildin has ignored.
On Thursday this week, the High Court in Cardiff heard evidence from Stephen Colegate, the Council’s Principal Planning Officer and Helen Blundell, the Council’s solicitor about Mr Wildin’s response to previous court orders.
Mr Wildin candidly accepted that he had not completed the required works. He said that he could not comply for various reasons, including being unable to find contractors and the inability to find the necessary money. Due to the claimed lack of funds, the judge was not prepared to find Mr Wildin in contempt of court for the requirement to demolish the building entirely, but he was satisfied that he was in contempt of court for not soft stripping the interior of the building, for not decommissioning services and in four other respects.
His Honour Judge Milwyn Jarman QC handed down the sentence today after hearing submissions by counsel for the local authority Stephen Whale and Charles Auld for Mr Wildin. The judge refused to adjourn for sentencing, commenting that until recently, Mr Wildin had made no effort to comply with the injunction, but instead had made threats of legal action against the Council, had made complaints about the Council’s solicitor and had continued to make vexatious requests for information.
Giving his decision, HHJ Jarman QC handed down a custodial sentence of 6 weeks, suspended for 12 months on the condition that he strip the interior of the building including removing all sports equipment, the cinema, bowling alley, all doors, lighting, radiators, fixtures, fittings, sanitary ware and furniture, along with disconnecting electricity and water supplies within 18 weeks. The requirements of the injunction and the original Enforcement Notice to demolish the entire building remain in force.
He noted the long history of the building and that Mr Wildin knew before, or within a couple of months of starting work, that the building would not constitute permitted development, but he carried on regardless knowing that he was risking costs.
The judge found that Mr Wildin had great difficulty accepting the harm the building has caused locally and stated that it was in the public interest that the planning controls are observed to deter others who might be tempted by Mr Wildin’s example.
The Council has been awarded substantial costs as part of the hearing.
Cllr Tim Gwilliam, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Planning said: “Today’s result was completely avoidable. If Mr Wildin had followed the advice of the many experts who advised him to comply with the law, he would not have faced this outcome.
“The Council's determination to see this matter through was not borne out of malice or trying to attack someone who has been a businessman in the district for many years, but simply out of doing what is right and fair.
“Every year, hundreds of people ask the Council for planning advice and follow it. The Council does its best to assist people in securing permissions for development proposals that improve the environment in which they live whilst safeguarding the community. It is important that the planning rules and policies are adhered to.
“The Forest of Dean District Council would like to thank the people of the Forest and the people of Cinderford in particular for their patience while we followed the lengthy process of making this happen.”