Couple found guilty of illegally converting former offices into flats

cambridge house

A couple who illegally converted a Barking town centre office block into 14 flats, have been found guilty in court for disregarding planning laws.

In an interview under caution, Mr Soorippilla Balasingham told officers he collected at least £8-10,000 per month in rental income.

Mr Balasingham and his wife, Bavany Balasingham, who live in Kensington Avenue, Newham, bought Cambridge House, a three-storey building on Cambridge Road, for £1.21million in 2008.

Between 2013 and 2016, the Balasinghams submitted 10 applications to the council’s planning department to change the use of the former Charter Security offices from part commercial part residential, to entirely residential.

Despite being granted permission for some of their requested changes; the work was never carried out and subsequent applications were submitted.

‘Profit ahead of people’

Councillor Laila Butt, Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety, said: “This case is a classic example of a landlord putting profit ahead of people.

“Despite being given planning permission to develop the building, the owners chose to ignore regulations and do what they want, when they want.”

When council officers visited the premises in August 2014, they issued an enforcement notice ordering the building be restored to its original purpose.

The couple appealed the decision, but it was dismissed, and the Balasinghams were given until July 2016 to undo any alterations.

During an inspection in October that year, a council enforcement officer found the notice had still not been complied with, and the ground floor had been divided into eight flats and the first floor into six flats. The couple had only received permission for ten flats.

A number of issues were identified during the visit, including fire safety concerns.

‘Cases like this are rare’

When interviewed, Mr Balasingham admitted responsibility for the ownership and management of the building, which is near to Barking station.

The couple appeared at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on 9 February 2018, charged with offences under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Cllr Butt added: “Although cases like this are rare, 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.”

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 will be deferred until conclusion of the confiscation proceedings.