A once prosperous property developer who demolished a protected £2 million Victorian villa before replacing it with a modern replica has had his record fine for violating planning laws more than halved after pleading poverty at the Court of Appeal.
Piers Rance knew that he did not have planning permission to tear down the house in Cloncurry Street, Fulham, west London, but cynically saved himself money by removing so many of its walls that its front elevation became unstable.
Faced with the Health and Safety Executive's view that the part-destroyed house was dangerous, Hammersmith and Fulham Council reluctantly granted consent for its demolition and Rance went on to construct a new building almost identical to the one he had destroyed.
Rance was given a £120,000 fine and a £100,000 legal costs bill after failing in an appeal to the Crown Court against his conviction of an offence under the Planning (Listed Buildings in Conservation Areas) Act 1990. However, the Court of Appeal has now reduced his fine to £50,000 and the costs bill to £40,000 after Rance argued that the property recession had left him with zero assets and more than £2.7 million in debt.
Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Keith and Mr Justice Foskett, rejected Rance's plea that he had been punished too harshly because the new house was ‘of at least as great architectural quality’ as the one it replaced. Demolition and replacement had been a cheaper option for Rance, not least because VAT was zero-rated on construction of the new house, and the judge said that his real crime was his deliberate disregard of planning procedures.
Despite what were described as Rance's ‘trappings of wealth’, he pointed out that the house is now in his wife's name and that he had received financial support from his mother. Due to the size of his debts, he said that he was on the verge of signing an individual voluntary arrangement.
Upholding Rance's appeal, the judge said a £50,000 fine was in line with precedent cases and a £40,000 costs order was a fair reflection of the cost of the proceedings.