If we become aware that a development has, or is being undertaken without the required permission, we may ask the person(s) responsible to make a retrospective planning application. If we decide that permission should not be granted we may require you to put things back as they were.
You can appeal but if the verdict comes out against you and you still refuse to comply you may be prosecuted.
What is a Planning Breach?
A planning breach usually occurs when:
- A development that requires planning permission is undertaken without the permission being granted - either because the planning application was refused or was never applied for.
- A development that has been given permission subject to conditions breaks one or more of those conditions.
A planning breach in itself is not illegal and the council can permit a retrospective application where planning permission has not been sought.
However, if the breach involves a previously rejected development (or the retrospective application fails) the council can issue an enforcement notice.
In considering any enforcement action, the decisive issue for the local planning authority should be whether the breach of control would unacceptably affect public amenity or the existing use of land and buildings meriting protection in the public interest and uphold local planning policy in the most effective way. The integrity of the planning system depends on taking effective enforcement action where it is necessary and there is clear harm or nuisance.
It is illegal to disobey an enforcement notice unless it is successfully appealed against.
What information will the Council need?
- When you first approach the Council you should supply as much information as possible about the current and previous situation, including:
- Your name & address plus telephone number, fax number or e-mail address.
- The exact location/address of the building or site.
- The nature of the building operations or change of use of a property which you suspect does not have permission and approximate dimension of any new building works.
- The date when the activity or development started or when it occurs.
- The names, status and addresses of any owners, occupiers, builders, agents or companies involved etc (if known).
- What problems the development/use is causing to you (for example, noise, traffic, smells, overshadowing etc).
The assistance of the public is often crucial to the success of planning enforcement action. During the enforcement process, information from residents can often add to that held by the Council. When alerting the Council to a possible breach it is useful to have as much information as possible included in the written complaint (as listed above) and, where appropriate, photographs. The greater the detail that you provide, the more likely it will be that the the problem can be resolved quickly. In certain cases, the complainant will be asked to complete "log activity sheets" to help the Council to decide whether the use is unauthorised. Such information can be invaluable and will help the process of determining whether there is a breach of planning control.
Reporting a Planning Breach
If you believe a development has breached a planning control you can contact our Planning Enforcement Team. We would prefer all complaints to be submitted in writing whether by e-mail or letter, so that there is a clear audit trail, to prevent any misunderstanding of what is being complained about and it also helps to prevent malicious complaints.
Or you can call in person to our reception at the above address, the opening hours are Mon-Thurs 8.30 am to 5.00 pm, Fri 8.30 am to 4.30 pm.
Alternatively you can ask your Ward Councillor to take up your complaint on your behalf.
If you wish to discuss any issues concerning Planning Breaches or the work of the Planning Enforcement Team please contact them on 01623 463325.
Will my complaint be kept confidential?
Under the Data Protection Act, the name and address of the person making the complaint, or any other contact details, will not be disclosed. The only exception to this is when we are taking formal action and you have been asked to collect evidence to support your complaint. In these cases you may be asked to give that evidence at a hearing, but before then you will be asked if you are prepared to do that.
Most complaints are dealt with without the need for formal action, so in most cases confidentiality can be maintained.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Council has to make information available to the public, this includes information about complaints. However if a request is made under this legislation for the purposes of identifying a complainant, or for information which may lead to the identity of a complainant being revealed, we will contact you for your permission to disclose your details. If you refuse then the request will be denied for this personal information. Please be aware however that the information may be required to be disclosed by law and whilst the Council will endeavour to maintain confidentiality, it cannot give any firm guarantees.
We do check anonymous complaints, but they take a lower priority than others and investigations might have to be closed if we cannot obtain further information from the source of the complaint.
What happens after I have made my complaint?
On receipt of a complaint and after checking the planning history of the site, an assessment is made as to whether it is a planning issue and an acknowledgement letter is sent advising who is dealing with your case with a contact telephone number within five working days of receipt of your complaint.
An initial site visit will be made in response to your complaint within 10 working days of receipt of a complaint and you will be advised within 28 working days as to how the Council intends to deal with the matter, although at this stage we may not be able to say precisely what action we can take.
When complaints about alleged breaches of planning control are received from councillors or members of the public, they are properly recorded in our back office computer system and investigated.
If we as the local planning authority decide to exercise our discretion not to take formal enforcement action following a complaint, we will be prepared to explain the reasons to any organisation or person who has asked for an alleged breach to be investigated.
Taking Formal Action
If we decide that we need to take formal action, we will notify the complainant and offender that enforcement action is being considered - this allows a further chance for a negotiated settlement.
A report to the Planning Chair Meeting or Planning Committee using delegated powers will be drafted outlining the case and requesting enforcement action to be authorised if it is expedient to do so. If agreed we notify interested parties of the decision and begin preparing the formal notices in consultation with the Council's Legal Service.
Once all parties with a legal interest in the site have been identified the Council's Legal Service will serve the notices. The notice will specify the steps that need to be undertaken within an appropriate timescale.
In the case of unauthorised works to listed buildings and/or to protected trees, the Council can proceed to instigate prosecution proceedings without having to first serve an Enforcement Notice (as such unauthorised works are illegal and represent a criminal offence).
What Types of Action can we take?
If formal action is proposed the agreement of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Development Control Committee will be sought. Once enforcement action is agreed, the Council will generally serve one of the following Notices:
Breach of Condition Notice: deals with breaches of any conditions which have been attached to a planning permission. There is no right of appeal against this notice.
Enforcement Notice: most common form of notice to deal with unauthorised development. This notice specifies a time to take effect, normally 28 days, and spells out what steps need to be taken to remedy the breach and a time for compliance. There is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against this notice; if this option is taken the terms of the Notice are suspended until a decision has been made on the appeal.
Stop Notice: This Notice is only normally used in urgent or serious cases and requires the cessation of an unauthorised use that has implications for public safety or similar issues.
Section 215 Notice: This Notice is served if the amenity of a part of the District is adversely affected by the condition of land. It may require certain steps to be undertaken by the owner of the land to remedy its condition. If considered necessary, the Local Planning Authority have the power to enter the land, carry out the work and charge the cost of such work to the liable person, which may also involve a financial charge on the land. There is the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against this notice.
The complainant will be informed when the enforcement notices are served, what action they require and when the period for compliance runs out.
What happens after notices are served?
The recipient of a notice or offender will either:
- Comply with the notice within the specified timescale (in which case the matter is closed); or
- Contest the notice by way of an appeal to the Secretary of State or challenge in a court of law, where this is appropriate.
Hearing a case on appeal will take time and can often delay proceedings, particularly if a public inquiry has to be arranged.
An Inspector will be appointed by the Planning Inspectorate to determine the appeal. The Inspector can either dismiss the appeal and uphold the Notice, in full or with modifications, or uphold the appeal and dismiss the Enforcement Notice.
If the appeal is dismissed the Enforcement Notice, with or without modifications, will come into force on a date specified by the Inspector and must be complied with within timescale's specified in the notice. If the notice is not complied with the owner of the land and any person upon whom the notice is served commits an offence and may be prosecuted.
If the appeal is successful the notice will no longer be of any effect and planning permission is deemed to be granted.
Appeals Against Enforcement Notices
Appeals can be made against enforcement notices to the Planning Inspectorate, an appeal must be made before the notices comes into effect. An appeal cannot be made against a breach of condition notice or a stop notice (although they can be legally challenged in the court). If an appeal is made, it is up to the appellant to show that an alleged breach has not occurred. An appeal suspends action (although a stop notice remains in force). One outcome of the appeal process could be to allow the building to stay or use to continue. However, in most cases, appeals are dismissed and the breach has to stop after a set period. The Planning Inspectorate advises people making representations on an appeal of the decision made if they request this.
The complainant and neighbours will be advised of any appeal that is lodged against an enforcement notice and the grounds upon which the appeal has been made. They will then be able to make further comments to the planning inspector dealing with the case, although at this stage the names and addresses cannot be kept confidential.
Arrangements to inspect the premises will be made by the planner dealing with the case no later than 21 days after the compliance period runs out in order to find out whether the requirements of the enforcement notice have been satisfied.
Taking Court Action
In the event of a breach continuing against a valid notice, the Council will normally take action through the Courts, subject to the legal advice given. If a prosecution is successful, a fine of up to £20,000 is available on conviction in a Magistrate's Court, with unlimited fines in the Crown Court.
Taking Direct Action
If necessary, the Council will take direct action against the offence to put things back as they were and claim its expenses back from the owner. A decision on this will depend upon the circumstances of each case, but will take account of the following:
- the cost of the works.
- knowledge about the owner/occupiers.
- the chance of other approaches succeeding.
- the site history.
Local authorities have powers to deal with complaints about high hedges, in keeping with Part Eight of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, this came into operation in England on 1 June 2005. High hedges complaints are dealt with by the Planning Enforcement Team. For more information on the legislation and on making a complaint, go to our High Hedges page.
Enforcement Register and Notices
Our On-Line Planning Applications Database, provides access to the enforcement register and scanned copies of any notices from 2002 onwards. The register is searchable by Council record number and/or the site address.
Information is continually updated on the Planning and Enforcement system and is transferred to our Internet server at the end of every working day, this means the information you view is accurate as of the previous working day. Information on new Enforcement Notices will be available on-line within one working day of the serving of the notice and the actual Enforcement Notices are available within five working days.