A landowner who built on a protected area of countryside and repeatedly flouted planning regulations has been prosecuted and fined following a long-running dispute, writes Jennifer Mulcahey.

Planning enforcement officers first served notice on Thomas William Gibbs, 69 and of Willow Farm on Longbarrow Lane, Stoke Abbott, in April 2008 after discovering he had built an unauthorised house at Willow Farm.

The farm is located between Beaminster and Stoke Abbott and is in a protected area of countryside that falls within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The enforcement notice required Mr Gibbs to stop residential use of the land and to demolish and remove the structure.

Mr Gibbs appealed the notice, which resulted in temporary permission for the dwelling being granted on the condition it would be removed by February 2012.

Sometime before February 2012, Mr Gibbs then went on to build a further unauthorised barn-like structure which was deemed harmful to the scenic beauty of the AONB.

Mr Gibbs applied for planning permission to retain the dwelling and barn but this was refused in September 2012.

A second enforcement notice was issued requiring residential use on the land to cease and the demolition and removal of the unauthorised buildings by June 2014.

A further appeal by Mr Gibbs was rejected and the second notice came back into effect requiring to him to comply by January 23, 2015.

Mr Gibbs did not comply, however, and a follow-up investigation by planning enforcement officers in 2017 found that people were still living at the property despite enforcement notice.

Further inspections took place in 2018 and 2019, by which time the offending had continued for over four years.

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Following a court summons being served in April 2019 significant steps were taken by Mr Gibbs to comply with the enforcement notice.

Demolition of the building has yet to take place because a bat roost had become established in the roof space of the building.

A licence has been granted by Natural England to allow the demolition to take place in a way that ensures the protection of the bats and work is expected to take place in spring.

On August 5, 2019, Mr Gibbs appeared at Weymouth Magistrates Court where he pleaded guilty to an offence contrary to Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Sentencing took place on Monday after being adjourned twice to enable Mr Gibbs to comply with the enforcement notice.

He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay the full amount of the council’s prosecution costs in the sum of £1,480. In addition, a victim surcharge of £100 was ordered to be paid.

The fines have to be paid within 28 days of the sentence being passed.

Mr Gibbs was told by the sentencing court that he could be prosecuted by Dorset Council again if he did not demolish the building as promised.

Dorset Council cabinet member for planning, Cllr David Walsh, said: “I would like thank our officers for bringing this long running case to a successful conclusion. We have a duty to protect land which is part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“This case in particular shows how we use court proceedings as a last resort and where possible we will try to work with landowners to ensure planning law is respected and complied with.

“That said, we will not allow the integrity of the planning system to be undermined. We will take appropriate action to ensure that Mr Gibbs does not allow the demolition of the building to drift and delay.”