The owners of a Warwickshire chicken farm who “deliberately and cynically exploited” the planning system for five years have been ordered to pay out almost a quarter of a million pounds by a judge who said it was “difficult to imagine a more serious case”.
The planning row revolved around slaughterhouse buildings illegally erected in the green belt by the Summers family at Cank Farm in Tanworth-in-Arden near Solihull.
John and Fay Summers, their three sons John, Adrian and Mark and their company Summers Holdings were in the dock at Warwickshire Crown Court in Leamington Spa having previously pleaded guilty at Leamington Magistrates Court of failing to comply with an enforcement notice contrary to the Planning Act 1990, a prosecution brought by Stratford-upon-Avon District Council.
As the five directors had made criminal benefit from their actions a confiscation order was made against them under the Proceeds of Crime Act totalling £129,206.85.
Fines were imposed totalling £27,000 – £6,500 for the company and the three brothers and £500 each for their parents. The defendants were also ordered to find the prosecution costs of £69,141.63. The family were warned they could be jailed if they do not pay up.
The Judge Mr Recorder Bright said: “I really think it is difficult to imagine a more serious case. This has been a serious and persistent breach of the necessary compliance with the enforcement notice over a sustained period of time – 302 days. The defendants deliberately chose to ignore the enforcement notice and deliberately and cynically exploited the planning process.”
He said fines had been reduced by a third due to early guilty pleas and John and Fay Summers were fined less as their involvement in the running of the business had been limited in recent years.
The case concerned two buildings – a lairage (an area for receiving and calming the chickens before slaughter) and a chiller – erected in 2007, which were part of a huge chicken slaughterhouse operation on the site processing 20,000 birds a day, the majority of which ended up in Birmingham restaurants, balti houses and shops. In 2012 the business turned over £13 million and made a profit of around £246,000.
The Summers family said the buildings were erected to ensure the business met with stringent food hygiene and animal welfare regulations – in 2006 the operation was fined £35,000 for breaching animal welfare regulations.
A lengthy and complex planning battle ensued with enforcement notices from 2009 onwards ordering the removal of the buildings repeatedly ignored.
Multiple planning applications were also subsequently submitted and two local public inquiries held.
Although he accepted it was motivated by a desire to comply with regulatory demands, Mr Recorder Bright said: “The abuse of planning process was deliberate, with the aim of retaining the structure for the maximum period possible.