Our policy on the enforcement of planning control became effective from October 2004, was revised in April 2005 and continues to be kept under review.
The enforcement service
Public confidence is quickly undermined if unauthorised development is allowed to go ahead without any apparent attempt by us to intervene before serious harm results.
We have general discretion to take enforcement action where we think it's needed but we have to take the following guidelines into account:
- Private citizens can't initiate planning enforcement action themselves but they can bring breaches of planning control to our attention. Parliament has given us primary responsibility for taking whatever enforcement action is necessary in the public interest
- The Local Government Ombudsman may find "maladministration" if we fail to take effective enforcement action which is plainly necessary
- In considering any enforcement action, the decisive issue should be whether the breach of control would seriously affect public amenity or the existing use of land or buildings meriting protection in the public interest
- Enforcement action should always be in line with the breach of planning control to which it relates. For example, it's usually inappropriate to take formal enforcement action against a trivial or technical breach of control which causes no harm
- We will normally make an initial attempt to persuade the owner or occupier of the site to either make an application, if the development is capable of being made acceptable, and/or cease work. However, negotiations shouldn't be allowed to hamper or delay whatever formal enforcement action may be required to make the development acceptable on planning grounds, or to compel it to stop
There are several tools available to us for dealing with a breach of planning control:
- Planning contravention notice: This can be served where it appears there may have been a breach of planning control and we require information about activities on the land or nature of the occupier's interest in the land
- Enforcement notice: This can be served to remedy an actual breach of planning control by requiring an unauthorised use to stop or building works removed. In general terms, an unauthorised use becomes immune from action after ten years and building works are similarly immune after four years. A notice can also be served to restrict or impose conditions on a particular operation which would otherwise be unacceptable. There's a right of appeal which means that the notice doesn't come into force until any appeal has been determined
- Stop notices: These can be served any time after service of an enforcement notice to require unauthorised activities to cease permanently
- Temporary stop notices: These can be used in emergency, where there is very serious harm to amenity and it's considered essential for the breach to stop immediately before the service of an enforcement notice. They only last for 28 days
- Breach of condition notice: This can be served where there's a failure to comply with any condition or limitation imposed on a grant of planning permission
- Injunctions: These can be sought in the county court or high court to restrain any actual, or expected, breach of planning control
- Section 215 notice: This enables us to deal with any land which adversely affects amenity
- Entry onto land: Our authorised officers have powers to gain entry onto land or into buildings to obtain information required for enforcement purposes
Responding to complaints
Complaints, other than those made anonymously, will be investigated and acted upon as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, workloads don't allow for immediate action on all complaints received, so staff will prioritise.
New complaints and other cases we become aware of will be dealt with as follows:
- Unauthorised demolition or partial demolition of a building considered essential to retain
- Unauthorised works to trees covered by tree preservation orders or significant trees in a conservation area
- Unauthorised development, non-compliance with a planning condition or limitation or other planning agreement which is causing immediate harm in the locality, particularly to residential amenity
- Unauthorised works to a listed building
- Unauthorised development which has been undetected until a complaint was received, and where the time limit for enforcement action will expire within the next 12 months
- Display of illegal advertisements where there's a serious harm to amenity or highway safety (unauthorised signs within the highway boundary will be dealt with by the highway authority)
- Non-compliance with approved plans or conditions of a planning permission in an on-going development which it is considered appropriate to resolve at an early stage
- Other complaints/cases relating to unauthorised development not falling in any of the above categories
- General monitoring of conditions, planning agreements and development work
An initial acknowledgement to all written complaints within three working days.
All complaints to be treated as confidential as far as possible. There may, however, be cases where the complainant's evidence will be crucial to successful enforcement action and complainants will be advised in advance.
Where immediate action is involved, a site visit will take place within 36 hours.
Complainants will be advised within 25 working days of how the matter is being dealt with and at the same time all other parties involved in the alleged contravention will also be informed.
Where formal legal or enforcement action is taken, complainants will be notified simultaneously with the action, or at most within three working days following that action.
Handling on-going cases
New cases will progress in line with the following guidance:
- After the initial investigation, an assessment will be made about whether there's a breach of planning control. If there isn't, the case will be closed
- If there is a breach of planning control, a retrospective application will be invited unless it's very clear that planning permission would be likely to be refused. In such cases, the person carrying out the unauthorised development will be invited to rectify the situation, and if this isn't done, formal enforcement action will normally be taken
- It may be possible to remedy a breach of planning control by attaching conditions to a retrospective planning permission, or by the service of a positive enforcement notice. These options will be explored where appropriate
- If no application is submitted, an assessment will be made of the breach and if it's considered expedient, formal enforcement action will normally be taken
- Breaches of planning control of a minor nature raising trivial or technical breaches of control, or issues that are non-contentious, won't be pursued to formal action if a retrospective application is not submitted
Developers don't have to notify us that work is starting on most developments once planning permission has been granted, and resource constraints mean that comprehensive monitoring isn't possible.
However, to encourage developers to undertake development in line with the approved particulars, plans and conditions, the enforcement service aims to:
- Check all Building Regulation plans to ensure they comply with the relevant planning permission and identify any instances where planning permission is required but hasn't yet been sought
- Write to applicants after receiving monthly notification from building control of all commencements of development, and write to applicants to remind them to carry out their development as approved and, where conditions are imposed requiring approval of further details, to specifically draw these to the attention of the applicant
- Write to applicants after receiving monthly notification of all completions of development, and write to applicants reminding them of the need to ensure that there are no planning requirements outstanding
- Monitor sites in conjunction with development management case officers where development is taking place, as resources permit
- Monitor Section 106 agreements
The performance targets will be monitored by the council's officers and members, who will also manage the allocation of resources. There's a formal complaints procedure for those who feel that any matter hasn't been properly dealt with.