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Planning enforcement FAQs

What is an enforcement notice?

We can serve you with an ‘enforcement notice’ if you've built something that requires permission but you haven't gained permission before building.

An 'enforcement notice' is an instruction to put the building back to how it was before you starting building and its a potentially expensive scenario.

We can also give you an enforcement notice if you've been granted permission based on our instruction but you've done it differently.

We'll take this action if we think the work you've done isn't acceptable, is harmful to the environment or if the work is not in the public interest.

Do we investigate boundary / ownership disputes?

No, we don't investigate these disputes. We can't investigate party wall act issues and covenant issues either, for help on any of these matters then contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for help and advice.

What happens if a breach of planning control is identified?

Sometimes work is carried out mistakenly without the required planning permission or sometimes people fail to keep to the planning permission they've been given. Usually, the owners of the property/land/premises will be given an opportunity to put the situation right and will be advised of the steps required to do this.

If development is considered acceptable in planning terms, the land owner may be given an opportunity to submit a pre-application form online. This will allow you the chance to comment on this application once this is received.

If the development is unacceptable and therefore unlikely to get planning permission, the land owner will be advised of this and told to stop unauthorised work or cease the unauthorised use until the matter is resolved.

How we assess breaches of planning control

The alleged breach will be assessed to establish the following:

Is more information needed?

In some circumstances further information may be required in order to establish more details from the land owner. In these instances we may have to serve a Planning Contravention Notice. This information will then be used to determine whether or not a breach of planning control has occurred.

Has a breach of planning control taken place?

No - The case will be closed and both you and the land owner will receive written confirmation explaining the reasons for this. Enforcement action cannot be taken if the works or change of use do not require planning permission.

Yes - Depending on the seriousness of the breach and the individual circumstances, different courses of action may be taken.

When will formal enforcement action be taken?

In most cases we'll attempt to resolve the breach through negotiation as we must give land owners a reasonable opportunity to 'right' the situation.

Where negotiations have failed or negotiation is not an option, we then have to consider if formal action is required.

Planning Enforcement is a discretionary power which we'll only use if we can demonstrate that the breach causes serious harm to public facilities. What action is taken will be dependent on the seriousness of the harm.

It's important to note that not all breaches of planning control will result in enforcement action being taken, particularly if there's no firm evidence that the breach 'harms' public facilities.

What impact can a breach in planning control have?

Significant harm resulting from a breach in planning control could impact on residential communities or create highway safety issues.

Examples of significant harm could include;

  • noise nuisance
  • loss of daylight or privacy
  • danger from increased traffic flows

The following are NOT examples of harm;

  • loss of value to a neighbouring property
  • competition to another business
  • loss of an individual’s view or trespass onto someone else’s land

It may be possible to address these issues via civil action, although this is normally a matter for you as an individual to pursue as it's not an area where we'd be involved.

What happens when formal enforcement action is taken?

A formal enforcement notice will be served on the owner of the property along with any other party with a legal interest in the land or building in question. The enforcement notice will specify what action is  required to 'right' the problem and will give a period for compliance.

The recipient of the enforcement notice has a minimum of 28 days to appeal against the notice to the Planning Inspectorate. Where an appeal is lodged, we can take no further action until the appeal has been decided. It's not unusual for the appeal process to take several months.

We'll always vigorously defend any appeal but if it's allowed (i.e. if the appellant wins), we can take no further action. If it's dismissed however, the enforcement notice will take effect, although the planning inspector can amend its requirements, including the period for compliance.

It's a criminal offence not to comply with the notice and could lead to prosecution. However, such action does require evidence to prove the offence is being committed by a named individual or company ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Collecting this evidence can sometimes be a lengthy and time-consuming exercise and in some cases pre-trial delays may be unavoidable.

How long is the process likely to take?

Dealing with enforcement cases can be a lengthy and complex processes. The different types of enforcement cases vary considerably as does the time taken for their resolution. It's for this reason that it's not  possible to give a standard time for dealing with enforcement cases in full.

The enforcement officer will always aim to provide you with regular updates or when key events take place in a case, such as the serving of an enforcement notice. Should you wish to enquire about the enforcement case, you can contact the investigating officer for an update.