A SOMERSET grandfather could be forced to sell his homes to pay fines associated with a six-year planning dispute.

Ron Knight has been in a legal battle since December 2017 over a parcel of farmland in the village of Milborne Port, located near Sherborne on the Somerset-Dorset border.

Mr Knight removed a section of boundary wall in order to access his land and keep it presentable, which drew the ire of South Somerset District Council’s planning enforcement team.

Nearly six years on, after numerous court appearances, Mr Knight may have to sell up his Devon home in order to afford the ongoing fines he has received.

Somerset Council (which replaced the district council in April) has said it intends to continue pursuing the matter despite Mr Knight’s predicament, arguing it is the public interest to do so.

Ron Knight and his two brothers sold off Cannon Court Farm, located off Golding’s Lane at the southern edge of the village, in 1990 and relocated to Devon.

However, a parcel of land on Brook Street adjoining the farm remained in their ownership, meaning they remained responsible for its upkeep.

This parcel of land subsequently became landlocked after the farm’s new owner extended the farm and its buildings, with access to the land parcel using the existing roads being denied.

In order to maintain the land, Mr Knight removed a small section of the boundary wall on Brook Street in October 2017, allowing them to access the site to use mowers and hedge trimmers.

Mr Knight had previously helped to rebuild the same wall in 1974, and was not aware that he required planning permission to remove this section.

Linda Knight, his daughter, said: “My dad received an enforcement notice from South Somerset District Council in December 2017 to cease work immediately along with a letter to appeal, which he didn’t understand and to which he failed to respond – hence missing the one chance to explain why he’d done what he’d done.

“Dad was then invited to an interview under caution from the police in March 2019, as he had refused to rebuild the wall, and was then summoned to appear in court for failure to comply in July 2020, incurring costs of £300.”

Mr Knight was subsequently fined £1,237.50 at a further summons in December 2020, with further costs of £250 at a subsequent hearing held in July 2022.

Following legal advice, Mr Knight submitted a planning application, seeking retrospective planning permission for the changes made to the boundary wall.

However, the council “declined to determine” the application, arguing that Mr Knight could not apply for planning permission while still under enforcement action.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, local councils have the legal right to decline making a decision on any application relating to any site which is partially or wholly under enforcement action.

Ms Knight said: “My father, who is 88 this year, is living on a pension and caring for his disabled wife – he is her sole carer.

“He could likely be forced to sell his house as he can’t afford to pay the ongoing fines.”

In mid-October, Mr Knight appeared in court again and was informed by the judge that he would face 45 days in prison unless he rebuilt the wall and repaid all fines.

Sam Cabell, Mr Knight’s grandson, said: “Granddad wasn’t allowed legal aid so had to represent himself.

“All the solicitors we contacted wouldn’t take the case on. The only person we found that would give advice was a barrister in London which would charge him more than £950 per hour.

“It’s a pretty shocking system to be quite honest, especially as there is others on the same street that have taken down walls to their properties to gain access for car parking spaces.

“My grandfather built the wall himself back in the 1970s and had no hassles from the council then – so why is there now an issue with him taking a piece down, for access to feed animals and keep the place tidy?”

Mr Knight now faces a further court date in January if he cannot paid the outstanding fines against him in the coming weeks.

Somerset Council said it was in the public interest to continue pursuing the matter, arguing that Mr Knight had caused “unjustified harm” to a protected local structure.

A spokesman said: “The retrospective planning application was asking for the same requirements as the enforcement notice.

“We have applied the expediency test and public interest test to each step of this case.

“We consider that the creation of the access, necessitating the demolition or removal of a wide section of the historic stonewall and associated engineering work to the land behind, fails to safeguard the established character of the conservation area and has caused unjustified harm to a designated heritage asset.”