Wayne Low, 48, of Leconfield, Beverley, appeared at Hull Crown Court today after East Riding Council opted to prosecute him under the Town and Country Planning Act.
Mr Low and his company AGML (UK) Ltd were charged with demolishing The Traveller's Rest within a Conservation Area in Long Riston, near Beverley, between November 2019 and February 2020. He did not have planning consent to do so and the council was not informed about the work.
He denied the offences at his first hearing at Beverley Magistrates Court and the case was sent to the Crown court, where he subsequently changed his plea to guilty.
The pub dated from the early 19th century, stood in a Conservation Area, and was the only one in the village.
Mr Low left a single-storey wing of the building in place and converted it into a 'micropub' called the Micro Pig Bar, which he sold to a local couple to run.
He has begun rebuilding the pub after being ordered to by a planning enforcement hearing, yet recently submitted a planning application for the reinstated structure to become a separate dwelling, and is adamant it will not re-open as licensed premises. The application has yet to be decided, though East Riding councillors have previously unanimously rejected his plans to build five terraced houses and a two-storey house and garage on the cleared site, which includes the former car park.
East Riding Council's legal team told the court that after complaints from Long Riston residents, an enforcement officer was sent to the site to inform Mr Low that the demolition was illegal. He refused to halt the work, and an enforcement notice was served requiring him to rebuild The Traveller's Rest within 15 months. He appealed this, but a government planning inspector sided with the council.
The prosecution detailed 'aggravating features' of the case, including the fact that the pub was classed as a heritage asset of some value, though it was not listed, and that Mr Low has a previous conviction in 2002 for killing great-crested newts and destroying wildlife habitat during the clearing of a site for a holiday camp near Scarborough.
"He has caused irreparable harm to the heritage, and has shown no remorse or contrition - on the contrary, he has expressly stated that he is still trying to 'spite' the residents of Long Riston. His company made a £174,000 profit in 2020. This was a deliberate action taken for the purposes of making money. He still proceeded with the demolition after being told that it was an offence."
Mr Low's defence counsel said in mitigation that the developer has a 'passion' for restoring historic buildings that are disused or neglected to give them a new purpose. He offered his client's apologies and remorse for a 'completely unacceptable' offence but added that the building was in a state of dereliction and disrepair when Mr Low purchased it in 2017. He claimed he was faced with 'serious structural issues' that required him to make the building safe ahead of winter storms.
The Traveller's Rest is being rebuilt using repurposed materials to the aesthetic standards required by the enforcement notice, which Mr Low's lawyers suggested had 'mitigated the harm' caused.
Ordering Mr Low to pay a fine of £32,000 and costs of almost £22,000, Recorder Tahir Khan QC said that the courts would 'take action' against developers who sought to gain from damage to heritage assets.
Recorder Khan added: "I consider the eight offences in 2002 of destruction of animals and their habitat to be an aggravating feature here.
"As the sole director of your business, you make all of the decisions yourself. This was a deliberate and blatant disregard for the law from a developer who should know the importance of complying with regulations. Your objective was to make money.
"I accept that the building has been reconstructed and restored, and I take into account that you pleaded guilty. Had you not changed your plea and the case had gone to trial, I would have fined you £40,000.
"Businesses owe a duty to the community to preserve heritage assets."
In addition to the criminal prosecution, East Riding Council also launched an enforcement case with HM Planning Inspectorate - a civil action - against Mr Low and his appeal was heard in June 2021.
The government planning inspector, Elizabeth Pleasant, ruled that the pub should be rebuilt in similar style, but disagreed with the council's claim that Mr Low should be required to reinstate a 1970s toilet block to ensure the future business would be viable, as she stated there were new toilets provided in the Micro Pig Bar that could serve the same purpose.
She agreed with Mr Low that it was "excessive" for the council to insist on the internal layout and signage to be reinstated, as this could normally be done without planning permission.
While an enforcement notice could require a developer to rebuild "as similar as possible", she pointed out that the Town and Country Planning Act also states that the replacement "may differ from the demolished building in any respect" and if it had been altered "(it) would not have constituted a breach of planning control".
Ms Pleasant concluded that Mr Low's appeal "should succeed in part only".
She granted planning permission for the demolition of the toilet block, but upheld East Riding Council's enforcement notice, with corrections and variations.
She refused to grant retrospective planning permission for the total demolition of the pub.
East Riding Council's director of planning Alan Menzies said: "While the council is disappointed that an experienced property developer like Wayne Low showed blatant disregard for planning laws and regulations which has resulted in him now having a criminal record, we are pleased the court has taken the breaches seriously which is reflected in the fine handed down.
"I hope this case serves as a warning to anyone who does not abide by planning regulations that we will enforce the law and prosecute if necessary."