Enforcement of planning control

We are committed to providing the best possible quality of service, in accordance with clearly set standards. The aim of this information is to give some guidance as to our policies and activities in relation to the enforcement of planning regulations.

We understand the importance of establishing effective controls over unauthorised development, to assist in the preservation and enhancement of the qualities of both the built and natural environment, and to protect public amenities. Section 73(a) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 permits planning permission to be granted for developments that have already been carried out, or a use of land introduced without planning permission. Our attitude to enforcing planning control will not, therefore, be stricter than it would have been when considering the merits of an application submitted in advance of development being carried out.

What is a breach of planning control?

A breach of planning control occurs when 'development' takes place without the necessary planning permission, or formal consent of the District Council. Examples of this include:

  • Carrying out building works, or the change of use of a property, for example, from a house to a shop, without planning permission
  • Carrying out works to a listed building without listed building consent
  • Displaying certain signs or advertisements without advertisement consent
  • Felling, or carrying out works to a tree, which is the subject of a Tree Preservation Order, or is situated within a Conservation Area, which means trees are protected

Enforcement action cannot be taken under the planning legislation for any activities that are not breaches of planning control. Some examples of which are listed below:

  • The parking of a commercial vehicle on the highway, in a residential area, or on a grass verge
  • Operating a business from home where the residential use remains the primary use and there is no adverse impact on residential amenity

How quickly are planning breaches investigated?

Enforcement action is a crucial component of the planning system. All reports of possible breaches of planning control are taken seriously and investigated as quickly as possible. Given the number of complaints we receive, and the varied subject matter, it is necessary to prioritise them. Obviously, some breaches are more serious than others, and must be investigated more quickly than others. All other lower priority cases are dealt with within an agreed timescale, subject to the availability of officers.

Are complaints kept confidential?

If you have reported a breach of planning control, we will deal with your query in confidence. Your name and address will not be given to the person or organisation involved in the possible breach. In certain serious cases, you may be asked to assist us by providing evidence at an appeal, or in court. Before this happens, the Case Officer will ask for your consent.

Please note that, to start building works, or make a change of use without planning permission, is not in itself an offence, nor is it a reason in itself to refuse an eventual planning application.

What matters need to be considered before action is taken?

Before a decision can be made on what is considered to be the best course of action to take, a number of questions will need to be addressed, such as:

  • Does the development/work carried out actually require consent under planning legislation? – Many minor building works may be covered by ‘permitted development’, certain 'changes of use' and many advertisement signs do not require consent from us
  • Has permission already been given? - Most planning permissions can be taken up at any time within three years of being granted and,  once partially put into action, there is no time limit on its final completion
  • Is the matter serious enough to warrant action?
  • Where planning permission has not been granted, are the activities generally acceptable in planning terms?
  • Where the activities or development are undesirable yet controllable by our planning enforcement power, what is the most appropriate action to take?

What we will do if you carry out unauthorised development

A planning officer will visit the site of the alleged unauthorised development to assess whether there is a breach of planning control. There are a number of courses of action available to pursue:

  • Invite the person carrying out the unauthorised work to regularise the development
  • Issue a Planning Contravention Notice - this is where more information is required before deciding whether to take enforcement action
  • Serve an Enforcement Notice - this is where the person is unwilling to remedy a breach of planning control and where we consider, having regard to the development plan and other material considerations, that planning permission would not have been granted
  • Issue a Stop Notice
  • Issue a Breach of Condition Notice
  • Issue a Section 215 Notice - this notice may be served where it is considered that the untidy condition of land adversely affects the amenity of the area
  • Take direct action to remedy the breach and place a legal charge on the land to recoup all reasonable costs involved
  • Injunctions

We consider formal planning enforcement action as a last resort. It is almost always more appropriate to seek a solution by negotiation, or by regularising acceptable unauthorised development through the submission of an appropriate application. On occasion, however, immediate prosecution/direct enforcement action will be necessary and we will use the statutory powers available to us where appropriate.

If we issue an Enforcement Notice, the person carrying out the unauthorised development and the owner of the land have the right of appeal. If you have previously sent written comments about the problem, the independent Planning Inspector will consider these. If an appeal is allowed, we can take no further action. If the appeal is dismissed, the period for compliance (which may have been varied by the Inspector hearing the appeal) begins from the date of the appeal decision.

Where planning permission has been granted for development and conditions have been imposed that are designed to meet certain planning objectives, and those conditions have not been complied with, consideration will be given as to whether it is appropriate to issue an Enforcement Notice, or a Breach of Condition Notice. Unlike an Enforcement Notice, there is no right of appeal against a Breach of Condition Notice. The failure to comply with a Breach of Condition Notice is a criminal offence.

Last updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2022.