Landowner must demolish home and given suspended sentence for ignoring planning regulations
5 February 2024
A landowner who refused to comply with planning regulations must demolish his home or face prison, after being found guilty of contempt of court.
Cheshire East Council took enforcement action over numerous breaches of planning control at a site known as Six Acres, on Wirswall Road, Wirswall, near Whitchurch.
The landowner, Michael Merrill, who referred to himself in court as Adam, built a dwelling for his family and a second for his in-laws. He had also constructed other unauthorised buildings, all in open countryside and without planning permission. He must now remove all the unauthorised buildings, including his home.
Mr Merrill was originally served with an enforcement notice by the council in 2014 and has since ignored all other legal steps by the council to have the properties removed. He claimed he had the right to ‘live on the land’ and that the Town and Country Planning Act did not apply to him and his wife. This was rejected by the judge.
The council was granted an injunction in October 2022, but no action was taken by Mr Merrill to remove the unauthorised development. On Friday, 26 January 2024, at the High Court in Manchester, His Honour Judge Bird handed down a 12-month prison sentence on Mr Merrill, suspended for 12 months, for contempt of court.
All residential use of the land must cease by mid July 2024 and the defendant will have until the end of January 2025 to remove the residential property from the site. The parties will agree a timetable for the removal of the rest of the unauthorised buildings.
The judge awarded additional costs of £17,409 to the council, in addition to costs amounting to £21,000 awarded to the council at previous hearings.
Councillor Mick Warren, Cheshire East Council’s chair of the environment and communities committee, said: “We do not seek to see people sent to prison for planning offences. Action to secure an injunction and an application for contempt of court are a last resort.
“However, where parties show no regard for the planning process in the event of unacceptable and inappropriate development, the council is left with no option but to pursue legal action and, in this instance, the property owners were given considerable time in which to comply with planning regulations.
“It is regrettable that the council had to take this action. Hopefully, the prospect of a 12-month prison sentence will result in compliance. The council has incurred substantial costs as well as officer time in this matter and this could have been invested in other areas within council services. It was important to ensure that planning law was complied with.”