Local planning enforcement plan

The principles of planning enforcement

The use of planning enforcement powers by us is discretionary and the carrying out of development without planning permission, although unauthorised, is not illegal. Some actions may become illegal only following non-compliance with a formal enforcement notice.

All alleged breaches of planning control will be investigated by us except for anonymous complaints, unless there is clear evidence the resulting harm is significant.

The first consideration in any enforcement query is whether there has been a breach of planning control (details of breaches of planning control are expanded on later in this policy). If there is no breach identified, and the developer has only done what they are entitled to as set out in the legislation, then we cannot take any action at all.

Not all work to land or building involves 'development' (see below for an explanation of development). For example, works simply amounting to maintenance or repair are not classed as development. Furthermore, a large amount of 'development' has the benefit of automatic planning permissions which are granted by the national planning regulations (commonly called 'permitted development rights'). A main part of enforcement work is assessing whether development complies with the criteria laid down for these automatic national planning permissions, criteria such as the type of development, its size, and its position.

In the first instance, we will seek to resolve all breaches of planning control through informal negotiation unless the breach is causing or is likely to cause imminent irrevocable harm requiring immediate action. This generally occurs in only a very small number of cases. The focus is to achieve compliance without resorting to formal proceedings which can be protracted and costly.

Where appropriate, we will give reasonable timescales for voluntary compliance through removal of the breach or through regularisation before seeking to take formal action.

Legislation does allow planning permission to be sought retrospectively and government guidance recommends that local planning authorities seek to regularise potentially acceptable unauthorised development through granting planning permission. Where there is a breach of planning control an application will be requested by us where it believes consent could be granted with conditions imposed to satisfactorily control the development. This doesn’t prejudice our future decisions.

It should be noted that we have to accept all valid applications and determine these even if they have not been invited. Instances where an application has been submitted either with or without guidance from us, formal action will not be taken when there is an undetermined valid planning application or appeal awaiting determination except in exceptional circumstances. When determining a planning application for non-authorised development, the nonauthorised/retrospective nature of the development will not influence the planning assessment.

Any action should be proportionate to the level of harm (see below for an explanation of harm) involved and should take into account relevant circumstances where it is expedient and necessary to do so, i.e. in the public interest. We need to consider whether it is expedient having regard to our development plan, national legislation, policies, guidance, any other material considerations and whether it’s in the public interest to undertake formal enforcement action to remedy breaches of planning control. Expediency will depend on the level of harm caused and the likelihood of achieving voluntary compliance.

This decision to undertake formal action cannot be based simply on the notion that planning legislation has been infringed. Carrying out work without the necessary planning permission is generally not a criminal offence in itself. However, there are exceptions for:

  • illegal works to scheduled ancient monuments or listed buildings
  • some advertisements
  • works to protected trees
  • demolition of buildings in a conservation area

If we take enforcement action simply because there is a lack of a valid planning permission in place, we may be liable to pay the appellant's costs at appeal. We must be able to demonstrate that harm has been caused by the development and that there is significant benefit from taking formal enforcement action. This reflects the power to act only when 'expedient' to do so and if such action is clearly in the public interest.

There is a range of enforcement powers available to us to address breaches of planning control and we will apply the most appropriate power dependant on the circumstances of each particular case.

It is unlikely that enforcement action will be pursued where a technical breach of planning control has occurred that causes no significant harm. One example would be when development has been carried out which is only a slight variation in excess of specified criteria and no harm has been caused to amenity, safety or other interests of acknowledged importance notably planning policy.

The local planning enforcement plan applies to activities carried out via the legislation enforced by the development management enforcement team. We also have other powers of enforcement in relation to other legislation such as highways, environmental health and public protection. This plan does not apply to these powers though contact details are provided in on our website.

Planning enforcement action will not be pursued where the matter is addressed through other legislation.

People can also perceive harm when it is caused by, for example, a possible loss of value of their property, competition from another business, trespass onto their land, or a breach of a restrictive covenant. These matters are outside the scope of the planning system, although there may be redress through civil law. In such cases, the parties should consult a solicitor or seek advice from Citizen's Advice.