A PLANNING inspector who told a Lancashire businessman to rebuild a historic Ribble Valley pub which was illegally knocked-down has criticised his alleged ‘disregard’ and inconsistent claims, and ordered him to pay full costs to a council for his ‘unreasonable’ behaviour.

The planning inspector’s decision to dismiss an appeal has come in the same week as a separate magistrates’ court sentencing,  over the demolition of the listed former Punch Bowl Inn at Hurst Green. The enforcement appeal and the court prosecution were two separate processes.

The old pub was demolished by a group of people and businesses without permission in the summer of 2021. Among them was Wilpshire-based developer Andrew Donelan, of Donelan Trading Ltd.

The inn was a number of buildings with long histories. But it was all reduced to rubble in the illegal demolition. The site is also near the Forest of Bowland area of outstanding  natural beauty (AONB), which has similar status to a national park.

After the unauthorised 2021 demolition, Andrew Donelan appealed against a listed building enforcement notice in March 2022 by Ribble Valley Council.  The council’s notice aimed to restore the old building, which had been vacant for some  time, to its state before demolition.

But Mr Donelan appealed and queried aspects of the enforcement notice, such as exterior and interior sections. He also claimed some original building materials were destroyed or unusable. However, a planning inspector said that claim was wrong after visiting the site and seeing piles of rubble.

A hearing into Mr Donelan’s appeal against the council enforcement notice was held last month.   Now the planning inspector involved has formally dismissed the appeal and supported the council’s action.

Last week Andrew Donelan, aged 61, of Carr Hall, Wilpshire and four other Lancashire people – including his wife and daughter – and two companies were sentenced at Blackburn Magistrates Court for offences over the Punch Bowl Inn’s demolition after being convicted at an earlier trial. They were also ordered to pay magistrates’ court surcharges and contributions towards legal costs.

A planning appeal hearing between Mr Donelan, the national Planning Inspectorate and Ribble Valley Council was held in February. Now in his report, the planning inspector states he and the council faced an ‘extraordinary situation’ at the February hearing. They did not know which grounds of appeal Mr Donelan would pursue and it was ‘most unsatisfactory’ situation, the inspector says.

Planning inspector AA Phillips said Ribble Valley Council should be reimbursed for costs from its planning work over the Punch Bowl Inn. Planning costs will be separate to this week’s court costs and could take some time to determine.

He also criticised Mr Donelan’s conduct and said the council had been clear about what was expected in restoring different parts of the building.

Technical drawings of the old building before it was demolished and a location plan are included in appeal documents. Rebuilding work must be done in 12 months.

In his planning appeal report, Mr Phillips states: “The appeal is dismissed and the listed building enforcement notice  is upheld with variations.”

He has highlighted inconsistencies between Mr Donelan’s spoken and written comments on different aspects of the enforcement and at different times. Examples include whether waste material at the Hurst Green site can be re-used and opinions about floors, walls and other parts of the demolished site.

The inspector’s report states: “His [Mr Donelan’s] concerns were raised for the first time at the hearing and there is no reference to his concerns in written evidence. I see no reason why the floor plans would be attached if the requirement excluded them.”

His report adds: “There is nothing in the enforcement notice that indicates that the requirement is for restoration of the external only. It is very clear to me that the overall purpose is to ‘restore the building to its former state’. To undertake such a requirement without restoring the internal arrangements would not achieve its purpose.

“Therefore, I conclude the reasonable interpretation of the requirement of the enforcement notice is to restore the building to its former state, meaning, in my judgement, the external appearance and internal arrangements and floor plans in accordance with the drawings attached to the notice.”

Elsewhere, the planning inspector refers to Mr Donelan’s  argument in the appeal ‘that it is not possible to restore the building because, according to him, during the demolition process ‘all the materials were destroyed and could not be re-used’.

The inspector’s report states: “Clearly, this is incorrect because at my site inspection I observed very large piles of stonework from the demolition on site. Some of this material may have been compromised through the careless demolition process but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that this is actually the case.  The material has not been destroyed. Some of it could be re-used in the required restoration of the building.

“The appearance of the building before demolition is clear from the drawings attached to the enforcement notice. The requirements go no further than the restoration of the building to ‘its former state’. As the requirements are not excessive and do not require any betterment to the building’s previously authorised state, the appeal on this ground does not succeed.

“In a case like this, where some of the material may not be capable of re-use in restoration, variations can be made to ensure that the restoration of the building is carried out to the required standard. At the hearing, it was agreed by both main parties that if the appeal does not succeed, a condition to carrying out of a survey of on-site materials from the demolished building should be carried out to identify which materials are capable of being re-used.

“In addition, details of alternative materials shall be agreed with the council and, finally, the building shall be restored using materials from the original building so far as is possible.”

Separately, Ribble Valley Council made its own application for full costs against Andrew Donelan of Donelan Trading Limited. In his decision, the planning inspector states: “The application for a full award of costs is allowed.”

He adds: “Costs may be awarded against a party who has behaved unreasonably and caused the party applying for costs to incur unnecessary or wasted expense in the appeal process. Examples may concern non-compliance with procedural requirements.”

The planning inspector has listed various dates and requests where Mr Donelan failed to reply or apparently ignored questions raised by others. These included events in November, December and January.

He states: “The council was required to respond in-full to all the grounds made in the appeal [by Mr Donelan]. Following my request in November seeking clarification of the grounds of appeal, the appellant [Mr Donelan] failed to respond to the issues raised.

“Furthermore, a few days later new evidence was received from the appellant

with respect to his appeal. That caused the original hearing due for November 2022, to be postponed  to give the council an opportunity to engage with a lawyer and their expert witness. My request for clarification of other matters were apparently ignored by the appellant.

“As a consequence, the council had to proceed on the basis that all the original grounds were being pursued. Clarification on the lack of evidence to support some grounds were also ignored.”

In December, Mr Donelan and other people and companies were found guilty in a trial at Burnley Magistrates Court of various criminal offences linked to the Punch Bowl Inn.

In his planning appeal report, the inspector states: “Following that, the council [Ribble Valley] contacted the appellant seeking clarification as to whether, in the light of the magistrate’s court verdict, he would continue to pursue the appeal on some of the grounds. The Planning Inspectorate was also contacted explaining the latest situation, making it clear an application for costs would be made if the appellant did not withdraw the ground [called ground D] appeal by January 1.

“At the start of the planning appeal hearing on February 15,  both the council and I were in an extraordinary situation where we did not actually know which grounds of appeal the appellant would pursue.

"This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs and is a direct and consequential result of the appellant’s lack of engagement and cooperation during the whole appeal process. Overall, the appellant’s disregard for following the correct appeal hearing procedures, lack of co-operation with the council and the inspector demonstrate unreasonable behaviour from a procedural perspective.

“I have taken account of the appellant’s representations, including the duplication of evidence between the criminal and enforcement cases. But that does not account for the behaviour demonstrated. I have also noted his comments that the council has self-generated work that was not needed. However, with greater engagement with the process, the council’s work in chasing evidence and confirming important matters would not have been necessary.”

Concluding, the inspector states: “Unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary or wasted expense has been demonstrated. A full award of costs is justified. It is ordered that that Andrew Donelan, of Donelan Trading Limited, shall pay Ribble Valley Council the costs of the appeal proceeding. Costs will be assessed in the Senior Courts Costs Office if not agreed.”

Commenting on the planning inspector’s decision,  Cllr Alison Brown, chairman of Ribble Valley Council’s planning and development committee, said: “This case sends a clear message to the owners of listed buildings that they cannot just do whatever they want.

"We take our responsibility for protecting the built environment seriously and, as this case illustrates, will not hesitate to take action against those undertaking works on listed buildings unlawfully or without consent.

“The court has sentenced the owners of the Punch Bowl Inn to significant fines for unlawful demolition of a listed building and failing to notify the local authority that they intended doing so. The Planning Inspectorate has also roundly dismissed an appeal by the owners of the Punch Bowl against a council enforcement notice compelling them to restore the building to its former state, including its external appearance and internal structure, and in the location shown on the original plans.

“Additionally, the Inspectorate has made a full award of costs in the council’s favour. This has been a long, drawn out and complicated case.  I would like to thank our planning and legal officers for their skill and expertise in bringing it to a successful conclusion.”