Firm gets away with wrong fine

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE haulier escaped with just £1,250 in fines for persistent unlawful advertising because the court s knowledge of the law was out of date. Mick George Haulage, based in Meadow Lane, St Ives, could have been fined £5,000 on two charges of un

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE haulier escaped with just £1,250 in fines for persistent unlawful advertising because the court's knowledge of the law was out of date.

Mick George Haulage, based in Meadow Lane, St Ives, could have been fined £5,000 on two charges of unlawful advertising to which the company pleaded guilty.

But Huntingdonshire Magistrates' Court was told - wrongly - the maximum fine for each offence was just £1,000 and sentenced on that basis.

Vicki Stevens, prosecuting for Huntingdonshire District Council, said Mick George had applied for planning consent for a hoarding for skips on the side of a lorry trailer parked in a field in Fenstanton after being told to remove it. That was refused and, when an appeal was dismissed, the trailer was removed and no charges were brought.


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Shortly afterwards, identical hoardings appeared on the sides of trailers adjacent to the A1123 in Bluntisham and on the former TC Harrison showroom site in Houghton Road, St Ives, Miss Stevens said.

"Mick George Haulage were aware of the error of their ways. HDC said 'please remove them', but the signs remained in place," she told the court.

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Sarah Young, for the company, claimed both parties had misunderstood the situation to some extent.

She said the company thought it was within the law at the St Ives site because it had been providing skips for a developer. It pleaded guilty because the advertisement was too large.

Both vehicles had now been removed.

"Mick George Haulage has accepted its guilt," she told the magistrates. "There has been a breakdown of communications between the planning department and the company. It won't happen again."

The firm was fined £500 for the Bluntisham offence and £750 for the St Ives breach. It was also ordered to pay £200 costs.

The firm was charged under Section 224(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for which the maximum penalty was set at "level 3", currently £1,000. And that, according to the court's sentencing "bible", Stone's Justices' Manual, was that.

But the book had not been updated to take account of Section 53 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which increased the penalty to "level 4" - £2,500.

Miss Stevens told the Bench the company faced the higher fines but, when challenged by the court clerk and defence solicitor, was able to say only that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had assured all planning authorities last August that it was so. (Inevitably, that produced some quips about distracted secretaries when the magistrates were deciding the level of fines.)

Miss Stevens said after the case the letter from ODPM's head of planning development control had been sent as part of the Government's crackdown on unauthorised roadside advertising.

Pat Lloyd, area director of HM Courts Service, said the change in the law had taken effect late last year and had been included in the 2006 edition of Stone's, which had just been published. Her court clerks had not yet received their copies, but changes to the criminal law were included on a computer-based system available to the courts.

It would be open to the magistrates, in consultation with the parties, to re-sentence.

* World of Spa, based at Huntingdon Garden & Leisure, in Wyton, was fined £500 with £200 costs for a similar offence involving a trailer beside the A141 near Tesco, Huntingdon.

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