Taking Enforcement Action
What matters we need to consider before taking enforcement action
Government guidance recommends that enforcement action should only be taken when unauthorised development is unacceptable on planning grounds. In each case, a local planning authority must decide whether it is expedient to take enforcement action. This means that we should only take action when it is appropriate to do so and in the public interest. Government advice is for enforcement officers to use persuasion and negotiation as a first step in all but the most serious situations. This approach often proves to be the quickest and most effective way of resolving a matter. The enforcement officer has to consider a number of issues before being in a position to recommend a particular course of action including:
Does whatever appears to be happening at the property require consent under planning legislation?
Many minor building works, including alterations to a building, certain changes of use and many unilluminated signs do not require consent from the Council. If this proved to be the case, no action can be taken.
Has permission already been given?
Most planning permissions can be taken up at any time within 3 years of being given (this was 5 years prior to 24 August 2005). Once partially implemented, there is no time limit on its final completion. So if you see works taking place but cannot recall a recent planning application, the activities may not necessarily be unauthorised. Enforcement officers will however check that the development is being carried out in accordance with the approved plans and conditions.
Where permission has not been given, are the activities nevertheless broadly acceptable in planning terms?
To commence building works or make a change of use without planning permission is not in itself, an offence. Local authorities are required to consider an unauthorised development in exactly the same way as a planning application and can invite an application to regularise the situation, especially if the activity is one which accords with local planning policies and does not create significant local problems. Conditions can be imposed on any consent granted in order to control certain aspects of the building work or use, for example, the materials to be used or opening hours.
Where the activities are undesirable, but controlled by the Council's planning enforcement powers, what is the most appropriate action to take?
Local authorities have a wide range of enforcement powers from which to choose and which one(s) will be used, will depend on the nature of the case. The Council's priorities are to protect amenity, safeguard the built environment and uphold local planning policy in the speediest and most effective way. The Government advises planning authorities only to resort to enforcement action where it is plainly necessary and there is obviously harm or nuisance.