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Planning enforcement charter

The enforcement process

Stage 1: Receipt of enquiry

When enforcement complaints are received, they are initially screened to check to make sure that all the details that we need to carry out an investigation have been provided (See section 3 above) and that they relate to a planning enforcement matter. The list of Breaches outlined in section 2 set out what the Planning Enforcement Team will investigate.

Where a complaint does not relate to a planning enforcement matter, customers will be informed by email or letter, with an explanation given why the complaint is not being investigated. Where a complaint falls under the remit of another Council Service, the Enforcement Team will forward it to the relevant Service to investigate and respond direct.

Stage 2: Investigation

Once it is confirmed that the enquiry is a planning matter we will send an acknowledgement to the person who made the enquiry which will include details of the case reference number, details of the officer dealing with the enquiry and other contact details. We will try to keep you informed about significant stages in the progress of a case.

The main purpose at this stage is to identify if a breach has occurred. This normally involves a site visit within the following timescales described in section 4.

After carrying out the site visit we will gather as much information as possible to establish the facts about the case and speaking to the owners or occupiers of the land. Sometimes this may involve serving a Planning Contravention Notice requesting specific information when an owner is unwilling to provide information or there is a lack of evidence to clarify matters.

When, following investigation, Planning Enforcement find a planning breach has not occurred or that it is immune from action, the case is closed and customers are informed with an explanation of the decision.

Stage 3: Triage Assessment

Where a breach is established, Stage 3 focuses on deciding whether to take action and, if so, what form. Planning enforcement is a discretionary function and formal action will only be taken where it is in the public interest to take action. A triage assessment is carried out to determine the most appropriate course of action whereby it will be categorised in terms of the nature and severity of the breach and the severity of impacts arising, including the impacts associated with not halting the breach. This will determine if the breach warrants taking action and any such action is proportionate to the breach. This involves assessing the scale and impact of the breach against planning policies and other material planning considerations, taking into account whether the breach causes ‘harm’ to public amenity, land or buildings meriting protection in the public interest. Breaches are categorised as follows;

Breach minor or acceptable in planning terms

These are generally minor breaches in scale and impact and accord with planning policies. It will generally be the case that it will not be in the public interest to take formal action and the case will be closed.

Breach could be made acceptable with modifications/planning conditions

These are breaches that could be made acceptable or regularised with some minor amendments.

Breach unacceptable

These are cases where the breach is more significant in scale and unlikely to be capable of being made acceptable in planning terms, or at least without significant amendments, or requires urgent action to prevent further harm and impact on public amenity, public safety or the environment.

Stage 4: Outcomes

Once the breach is categorised we consider the action to be pursued. There will be a number of actions ranging from taking no action, seeking a retrospective application to regularise or make development acceptable, to the taking of enforcement action to halt or put right a breach. The period for resolving cases will vary depending on the action to be pursued, the circumstances of the case, and the co-operation shown.

If we do find that a breach has occurred, there are three main courses of action which we may take.

Negotiate a solution

We will usually try to sort out the situation by negotiating with the person who is responsible for breaking planning control, rather than immediately taking enforcement action against them. In many cases, we do this through discussion and negotiation. We will take this approach when we consider that it is the most reasonable way of dealing with a problem. This will normally mean the person responsible being asked to stop the activity and get them to carry out work to put right any harm that it has caused; or modify it so that the development does not require planning permission. We will give the person responsible a specific amount of time to meet either of these requirements. The length of time will depend on how serious the problem is and any harm it is causing.

Make a retrospective application

In some cases it may be appropriate to ask the person responsible to submit a retrospective planning application. Until we make a decision on the retrospective application, we will not take formal action. We will only encourage a retrospective application if we consider that the situation has no negative effects or if the operations or work could be made acceptable by placing conditions on the planning permission. The person applying would then have to keep to these conditions. This does not prevent the developer submitting an application where they are advised it is unlikely it will be granted.

An owner or developer should never rely on ‘retrospective permission’ to get permission for unauthorised work. Anyone doing this is taking a considerable risk and may face formal enforcement action if planning permission is refused.  If we do receive a retrospective planning application the normal neighbour notification and publicity will be carried out and we will fully consider any comments made before we make a decision.

Retrospective planning applications are dealt with like any others and we will take into account the Local Development Plan, responses from consultees and the impact on the area and public safety. The application cannot be refused simply because it is retrospective. If we grant planning permission or if the unauthorised activity stops and any harmful effects are put right, we will not take any enforcement action.

Take formal enforcement action

If the problem continues beyond the timescale that we give to put right any harmful effects or to submit a planning application, we will consider what formal enforcement action we should take to deal with the matter. We will normally take formal action if a situation where planning control has been broken is causing harm to an area and where negotiations have failed to deal with the matter. We may also take action if we have received a retrospective application which is unacceptable on its planning merits and cannot be made acceptable by placing conditions on it.

Taking action has to be in the public interest. We will not take action simply because someone does not have planning permission or does not make a retrospective planning application. Only a relatively small number of cases result in us taking formal enforcement action. This usually involves either an ‘enforcement’ or ‘breach of condition’ notice being served on the owner and occupier of the land and other persons with an interest in the development – this can include those with a financial interest in the land such as a lender. Serving a notice can have severe repercussions for a property and can for example impact on the ability of the owner to sell it or seek further lending.

Most notices include:

  • a description of the problem;
  • the steps that should be taken to put the situation right;
  • the timescale for taking these steps;
  • the consequences of not taking these steps; and
  • where appropriate, any rights of appeal that the person has and how to make an appeal.

We keep an online enforcement register with details of enforcement notices, breach of condition notices and stop notices.  You can see details of notices which have been served since 1st September 2012 online at Service standard

Service standard

We aim to provide an initial formal response to enquiries (including the proposed course of action to be taken) within the following timescales

  • High priority cases – 20 working days
  • Medium priority cases – 40 working days
  • Low priority cases – 60 working days

You will be advised if no action is to be taken and the reasons why.

Where appropriate we will provide regular updates on the progress of the investigation.

Service standard

Where a breach of planning control cannot be resolved and formal action is justified a Notice will be served. The Council will write to the recipient to explain what is required and the timescales involved.