Planning enforcement frequently asked questions

What information will the council need to investigate your complaint?

When you first approach us you should supply as much information as possible about the current and previous situation, including:

  • The exact location of the building or site
  • The approximate dimension of any new building works
  • When the activity started or when it occurs
  • The names and addresses of any owners, occupiers or companies involved (if known)
  • Your name, address and telephone number
  • Any photographs you may wish to submit as part of the report

Your details will be kept confidential and will not be disclosed without your knowledge or consent (we do not process anonymous reports).

What will planning enforcement do if I make a complaint?

We will:

  • Acknowledge any complaint made within three working days of receiving it.
  • Assign your complaint to an enforcement officer for investigation.
  • Visit the property to see what has taken place, what harm it is causing and how it might be resolved. This usually happens within 10 days, although more serious breaches (works to a listed building, or the removal or works to a protected tree) will be visited as soon as possible.
  • Write a site report and, where necessary, discuss the matter with a planning officer to decide what, if any, action is to be taken.
  • Update you and other parties at key stages of the investigation and inform you of the outcome.

If a breach is identified, the person responsible will be told what is wrong and what action is required to remedy the breach. In the majority of cases, unless there is serious and immediate ongoing harm to the environment, highway safety or neighbours, the person responsible will be given an opportunity to remedy the breach before the commencement of costly and protracted formal action.

Sometimes the investigation can take some time, for example when trying to find out if a property is being used for business purposes. We may have to serve legal notices on the owners to find out more information. A planning application may also be submitted during our investigations. If this happens you will be consulted on it and given a chance to formally give us your views. There is also a right of appeal against any formal notice or if planning permission is refused. Therefore, some complaints can take time to resolve.

What is ‘harm’?

Significant harm that results from a breach in planning control could concern residential amenity or highway safety issues. Examples of significant harm could include noise nuisance, loss of daylight or privacy, or 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 lane.

It may be possible to address issues such as these by way of civil action, although this is a matter for the individual to pursue and is not an area where we would be involved.

If an unacceptable breach has occurred, what action can be taken?

If we find that a breach of planning control has occurred and is causing harm, we can:

  • Request that changes are made to the development so that it is acceptable in planning terms
  • Request that details required by a planning condition are submitted or implemented
  • Ask for a retrospective planning application to be submitted to regularise the site (this will give us the opportunity to consult on the development and we can impose controls through the use of conditions)
  • Request that construction work stops or that an unauthorised use ceases

What is a breach of planning control?

A breach of planning control is defined by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as ‘the carrying out of development without the required planning permission, or failing to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted’.

What happens if the breach continues?

We always seek to resolve complaints without having to resort to formal enforcement action, as advised by government guidelines. However, if an unacceptable breach continues then we will consider using formal enforcement powers.

Formal action can involve issuing one of the following notices:

  • Planning contravention notice
  • Enforcement notice
  • Breach of condition notice
  • Temporary stop notice
  • Stop notice
  • Section 215 untidy land notice
  • Requisition for information notice

It is not a criminal offence to do something without planning permission, however carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building, the unauthorised display of advertisements or damage to a protected tree is a criminal offence.

However, if a notice is served and is not complied with, it does become a criminal offence and is likely to lead to us considering further action, such as:

  • Prosecution
  • Direct action, such as the demolition of an unauthorised structure
  • Injunction

Will my details be kept confidential?

We will keep your details confidential during the investigation. Any comments you make on any planning application will however be on a public file. We may also have to disclose your details if we have to go to court to take legal action. We will, however, talk to you about this first if it is necessary.

What if someone has complained about my development?

We will visit you to discuss the matter. In brief you are advised to:

  • Immediately stop work on the development until a course of action has been discussed and agreed with us
  • Respond promptly to any correspondence you receive, which might include a legal notice to provide us with more information

We recognise that genuine mistakes are made, and the vast majority of enforcement complaints are resolved without the need for any formal action. We will always advise you on the best course of action to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

How do I check if it needs planning permission?

Some extensions to residential properties may not need planning permission. It can depend on a number of factors, such as the size and height of the extension, the position in relation to the road and whether there have been previous extensions to the property. Please visit the do I need planning permission? page for further information.

What is a breach of condition notice?

This type of notice can be served where a condition imposed on a planning permission has not been complied with. The notice sets out which conditions have not been complied with, states what action is required and gives a period for compliance.

It takes effect immediately from when it is served and it is a criminal offence not to comply with any requirement. The only right of appeal is to the high court. In the event of non-compliance, the council can take legal proceedings in the magistrates' court who can impose a fine of up to £1,000 on summary conviction.

What time limits apply for taking enforcement action?

Enforcement action must be taken within 4 years in relation to the erection of buildings, and within 10 years in relation to changes of use (unless it relates to the change of use to a dwelling), and breaches of conditions. There is no time limit for the enforcement of breaches of listed building legislation.