THE owners of a South Hams farm have been ordered to pay more than £8,000 in fines and costs after refusing to answer questions about unauthorised caravans on their land.
Andrew and Karen Vooght, who own Avon View Farm near Loddiswell, have been found guilty of failing to reply to notices from South Hams District Council's Planning and Environmental Health Departments.
The couple, who live at Great Gate Farm in Loddiswell, failed to appear at court on December 14 but magistrates found them guilty in their absence.
The council served a planning contravention notice asking a series of questions seeking information about the unauthorised occupation of 11 static caravans on their Avon View Farm site, which require planning consent.
Neither husband nor wife responded to the notice and the couple were each fined the maximum of £1,000 for their failure.
Given the poor living conditions at the site and ongoing concerns for public health, the council's environmental health department also served requisitions for information relating to the site.
For their failure to respond to the requisitions, the couple were fined £3,000 each and ordered to each pay costs of £255 and a victim surcharge of £15.
Cllr John Carter, South Hams' executive member for planning, said: "It takes just a few minutes to respond to a requisition notice and in normal circumstances the council would seek to avoid taking any formal action like this.
"In this instance, the owners have consistently failed to engage meaningfully with the council and so ultimately we had no other course of action.
"There are at least 10 static caravans on this site without planning permission, some of which are occupied, for which the Vooghts charge rent." He added:"We are seriously concerned about the living conditions of the residents and have had to take appropriate measures to improve the control of waste and water on the site until the caravans are removed.
"This is not an appropriate site for housing and unauthorised development on this scale will not be tolerated."
The council will now serve a notice to remove all but one of the caravans.