About enforcement action

Where our investigations identify a breach of planning regulations, it may be necessary for us to take enforcement action.

The information below is intended to help you understand how we decide whether enforcement action should be taken and if so, what types of action are at our disposal.

How do we decide whether enforcement action should be taken after a breach of planning regulations has been identified?

In determining what action should be taken after a planning breach is identified, we assess the circumstances of the individual case, making reference to our own planning policies, and review previous decisions that we have made.

We also consider Central Government enforcement policy set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and Circular 10/97. These policies provide guidance on how the enforcement powers should be used in response to breaches of planning.

The main deciding factor is whether the breach would “unacceptably affect public amenity or use of land that should be protected in the public interest.” The guidance also advises that “any enforcement action should be proportionate to the breach.” For example, it would be inappropriate to take formal action against a trivial or technical breach.

This duty means that we would not be acting lawfully if we enforced against every breach of planning control in the borough. There will be cases where there is a breach of planning legislation but the breach or harm is so minor that action cannot be justified.

What enforcement action can be taken after a planning breach has been identified?

There are various actions that are available to us in order to enforce planning regulations; however these any actions taken must be proportional to the alleged offence:

Negotiation

Government guidance makes it clear that we should first try remedy planning breaches through negotiation in all but the most serious cases. The person carrying out the breach is sent a letter confirming that the breach should be remedied in a specific timetable, or information should be provided to justify to us that no further action should be taken.

We will not unnecessarily delay starting formal action while negotiations continue to resolve the breach, for example by asking for an application for retrospective planning regulations.

In Priority A cases, we will require that unauthorised work should stop immediately, and other immediate remedies may be sought.

Planning Contravention Notice (PCN)

This is a legal notice which allows us to bring the breach to the attention of the owner or occupier and requires the alleged offender to provide certain information. The offender has 21 days to respond. Failure to respond could result in a prosecution in the Magistrates court.

Sometimes it is necessary to serve these notices in circumstances where a site visit may not be able to obtain all the facts necessary to establish whether a breach of planning regulations has taken place. In some cases the formal nature of the PCN will highlight the seriousness of the situation to the alleged offender and will in itself lead to the breach being remedied.

Enforcement Notices

These are our main enforcement tool. Government guidance (see Government’s Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 18 and Circular 10/97) makes it clear that in most cases enforcement notices should only be served where it is expedient to do so and after efforts to resolve the breach through negotiation have failed. This will normally be around six to nine months from when the complaint was first made.

Enforcement notices are formal legal documents that will require the owner or occupier to follow specific steps to correct the planning breach in a set time. If the notice is not complied with, the planning breach will become a criminal offence which can be prosecuted in the courts.

However, the notice may be appealed to an independent government planning inspector (in which case the effect of the enforcement notice is suspended while the appeal is ongoing.) Inspectors can decide to uphold the notice, amend it or have it quashed. Interested parties can make representations to the Appeal.

View enforcement notices

Using our enforcement notice search tool you can find details of formal enforcement cases (those where an enforcement notice has been served). We do not publish informal complaints. 

If it is decided that the enforcement notice is to be cancelled as a result of an appeal, all details of the case will be removed from our website.

Breach of Condition Notice (BCN)

These can be used in addition to an enforcement notice or as an alternative, where the unauthorised activity is in breach of a condition attached to a planning permission. Under the Law a breach of condition is seen as a more minor breach than cases where development has no planning regulations at all. For that reason there is no right of appeal against a BCN. However, if compliance is not achieved we can proceed to prosecution.

Section 215 notices

We have the power to issue a notice under section 215 if the amenity or part of its area is adversely affected by the condition of other land. The notice requires such steps as may be specified for remedying the condition of the land (includes buildings) and provides a minimum of 28 days before it takes effect. There is no right of appeal, although before the notice takes effect an appeal may be made to a Magistrates Court by those served with the notice or any other person having an interest in the land.

Stop Notices and Court Injunctions

Both these remedies can be used to bring a quick stop to development where a breach is causing serious or irreparable harm and immediate action is justified or where other actions have failed. They will generally only be used in the most serious cases. We will consider the use of injunctions in appropriate cases, such as where a listed building is undergoing significant alterations without consent that affects its special historic and architectural interest.

Default Powers

These are generally seen as supportive powers to the main enforcement powers and allow us to enter land to take the necessary steps to secure compliance when an enforcement notice has been served. We will consider taking such action in appropriate cases, such as, the removal of poster hoardings.

Prosecution

In most cases we cannot prosecute until we have taken formal enforcement action through the service of a legal notice. Prosecution does not bring about the remedying of a breach; rather it can be seen as the courts “punishing” the person responsible, usually through a fine. Even though a successful prosecution may not remedy a planning breach on its own it can have an important deterrent effect.