Camden urged to launch confiscation cases against dodgy developers
Council issues less enforcement notices than neighbouring boroughs, attempting 'negotiation' instead
06 September, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Councillor Danny Beales
THE Town Hall is to explore confiscating assets from developers who are identified as being behind unauthorised building works.
Regeneration chief Councillor Danny Beales said on Tuesday that he wanted to see the council use the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) – normally used to retrieve ill-gotten gains from fraudsters, thieves and drug dealers – in relation to planning cases.
“It’s on my radar,” he said. Cllr Beales was challenged by Conservative councillors on why Camden was not using the powers during a meeting of the Town Hall’s environment and scrutiny committee. It follows the release of government figures on Thursday which show the council serves fewer planning enforcement notices than neighbouring boroughs.
While Barnet issued 200 against unauthorised developments in the past year, Camden issued 18. Camden has also issued far fewer planning contravention notices, one of the first steps in identifying whether a breach has occurred. Cllr Beales said the council had “our fingers burned” in the past when trying to pursue cases – he did not cite any specific legal proceedings – and this had led to a “cautious approach”.
But he told the cross-party committee: “Other boroughs, I think, have started to use it quite a lot, neighbouring Barnet for example, and I think Hackney. It’s certainly something on my radar and we are looking in the near future to bring something back, probably to planning, on our emerging enforcement approach. It’s something we want to explore how we might use. We have to look at whether we need external, experienced people for help doing this because it’s not something we’ve done for a quite a while.”
He warned that the cases would not be “free cash” because there are financial risks when going to court. “You can lose, and you can lose hard,” said Cllr Beales. “We’ve taken a cautious approach. My personal view is I’d like to see us use it more, but I think it’s about working through that process and setting us up to succeed. There’s no point running at it and failing again, and losing public money.”
Earlier, he told the New Journal that the newly-released planning statistics did not equate to a poor performance by Camden’s department as the council followed national guidance to try and resolve planning issues before reaching the enforcement notice stage, adding: “We place a strong emphasis on negotiation.”
Councillor Oliver Cooper
Local authorities elsewhere calculated how much rogue developers have made through projects that did not have planning permission or broke the rules, and sought to confiscate those earnings through the POCA.
Some councils have also used the POCA against rogue rental landlords. Conservative group leader, Councillor Oliver Cooper, said: “Camden has earned a reputation as a soft-touch borough. It lets rogue developers get away with all sorts of unlawful developments that would be halted and penalised almost anywhere else: from excavating basements to dividing up houses into HMOs.”
He added: “Where developers aren’t acting in good faith, relying on negotiations is hopelessly naive and lets down residents, who expect people that break to law to be penalised to the full extent of the law. Neighbouring boroughs, such as Westminster, Barnet, and Brent, have made millions by issuing notices to rogue developers and, unlike Camden, they’ve built reputations as boroughs that don’t allow them to take the mickey. Camden is letting rogue developers slip through the net and letting money slip through its fingers, too.”