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Court issues record fine for demolition

History 'incredibly valuable' judge says as he fines negligent developer

15 August 2011

A developer who pulled down his own Regency house without planning permission has been given a £80,000 fine – the highest ever for unauthorised demolition in a conservation area.

John Philip Johnson, of Trafalgar Road in Richmond-upon-Thames, has one year to pay the fine, together with the local authority’s costs which amount to £42,500.

Judge Dodgson in Kingston Crown Court, who initially gave the developer three months, agreed for the period to be extended in light of the amount but warned that Johnson would face a two-year prison sentence if he defaulted.

Johnson demolished his £1m home with a view to rebuilding a replica and intends to carry on living in it when the work is completed. The council gave him permission to demolish large portions of the house but the judge said “it was never contemplated that the whole house should be demolished”.

“You decided at some point that you would demolish the whole building and it seems to me extraordinary that, at that point, you didn’t think to tell the planning authority,” the judge told Johnson. “You never told anyone in authority or, indeed, your neighbours.”

The judge accepted that in due course the replica house would fit in with the character of the street, which is one of the first areas in Britain to have been awarded conservation status. However, he said, “nothing will be able to alter the fact that what is there is a replica”.

While this sort of harm was difficult to quantify, the judge said: “There is something intangible and incredibly valuable about our history. Parliament has legislated to try and preserve our history in a number of ways and any act that destroys something of the age of that building cannot be dismissed as being minimal.”

In sentencing Johnson the judge considered three main factors: the financial benefit to the developer, his culpability and the harm that resulted from his actions.

Judge Dodgson reserved particular criticism of Johnson when it came to culpability, saying that as an educated man with knowledge of the building development business he should be aware of planning requirements.

“Decisions made by land owners may affect, in varying degrees, the enjoyment of others of their properties,” the judge said. “All householders are aware of this and, given your background and experience, it does seem to me extraordinary that you, at no stage, told the London Borough of Richmond what you were intending to do… It is quite clear to me that you were determined upon a course of action and you pressed ahead, either not caring or ignoring what you knew would be the understandable concern of others.”

He concluded: “Your conduct in the context of offences of this nature is, indeed, highly culpable and the penalty must reflect that.”

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