A COUPLE who illegally converted a former county pub into their home have been fined by magistrates.

Charles Willmott, 73, and Susan Willmott, 74, of Newtown House, Lower Eggleton, both pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a breach of a condition notice under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 at Hereford Magistrates Court last week.

Mark Watkins, prosecuting on behalf of Herefordshire Council, told the court that the couple acquired the Newtown Inn in 2012, with the knowledge it could only be used as a drinking establishment.

Immediately after they bought the property, they moved in and used it as their home, he said, and they filed a change of use application so it could be used as a dwelling.

That application was refused and the decision was appealed but dismissed by a planning inspector.

However, the couple continued to occupy the property as their home and an enforcement notice was issued by the council.

It required them to stop using the property for residential use but gave them a period of one year to comply which they failed to do, Mr Watkins said.

“We are talking about planning control and rules. We cannot have a situation or society where property owners just make up their own rules and do as they wish and fly in the face of planning control," he said.

"If property owners are to decide how they want to use their properties then it might have a detrimental effect on the local community."

Adrian Roberts, defending, said the couple had found the whole process to be 'overwhelming'.

Mr Willmott particularly had found it 'excruciatingly difficult' to make progress and described 'four years of hell' trying to resolve differences with the local authority.

When they purchased the pub it was dangerous and run-down, he said, and it was going to be their last major project before they went into retirement.

It was marketed as a potential dwelling by the agent, the court heard, and following the purchase an application was lodged.

The couple were invited into the local authority offices for discussions about what was planned for the future, he said, and at that stage they believed that planning permission was going to be granted and were fortified in that by the discussions they had with the council.

Work started and they were visited a number of times by council representatives.

They also invited neighbours and other interested parties to be shown around, Mr Roberts said.

The first sign of a problem was when an enforcement officer said they were occupying the property illegally.

They appealed that decision but it was dismissed by a planning inspector – apparently because they removed the front door and porch which changed the appearance of the building.

They went to the ombudsman and got nowhere before they went back to the council, with whom there was a dialogue.

A number of options were considered and Mr Willmott proposed constructing a separate building on the car park so members of the community could use it for meetings or as a youth club.

The council did not believe that was right in policy, Mr Roberts said, and they moved on to further discussions which were unsuccessful.

They accepted the law had been broken but the experience had been 'crushing' for them, said Mr Roberts.

Magistrates issued Mr Willmott with a £500 fine, ordered him to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge or £50.

Mrs Willmott was given a conditional discharge of 12 months and was ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.