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Guilty verdict for couple who illegally converted office to flats

Words: Laura Edgar
Cambridge House in August 2012 / Google

A couple who converted an office block in Barking town centre into 14 flats have been found guilty of disregarding planning rules.

Soorippilla Balasingham and his wife, Bavany Balasingham, from Newham, bought Cambridge House, a three-storey building on Cambridge Road, for £1.21 million in 2008.

The Balasinghams submitted 10 applications to the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham’s planning department between 2013 and 2016, to change the use of the office block from part commercial and part residential to completely residential.

Some of the requested changes were granted permission, but the work was never carried out.

Council officers visited the offices in August 2014. Following the visit, they issued an enforcement notice ordering the couple to restore the building to its original purpose. The Balasinghams appealed against the notice, but it was dismissed; they were given until 2016 to carry out the work to restore the building.

In October 2016, an enforcement officer found that the notice had still not been carried out. Additionally, the ground floor had been divided into eight flats and the first floor into six flats. The couple had permission for 10 flats only. Fire safety concerns were also identified during the visit.

In an interview under caution, Mr Balasingham told officers that he collected at least £8,000 to £10,000 a month in rental income, and admitted responsibility for the ownership and management of the building.

The couple were charged with offences under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

They appeared at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on 9 February, where they were found guilty. The Balasinghams were committed to Snaresbrook Crown Court on 9 March, following an application by the prosecution for a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Sentencing has been deferred until conclusion of the confiscation proceedings.

Laila Butt, cabinet member for enforcement and community safety, said: “This case is a classic example of a landlord putting profit ahead of people.

“It could have all been avoided if they had converted the property in the way they applied to.

“Planning regulations are there for a reason, so this is not just a victory for the council but also for residents who are left living in unsafe, illegal homes.”

Image credit | Google