Last edited 25 Mar 2015

Planning enforcement powers

Planning permission is the legal process followed in order to decide whether proposed developments should be allowed to go ahead. Responsibility for planning permissions lies with local planning authorities (usually, the planning department of the district or borough council).

Other than permitted developments, (which are considered to have insignificant impact), all developments require planning permission.

Permissions may be the subject of planning conditions, where, rather than refusing a planning application, a local planning authority might grant permission, but might for example restrict the use of the site or, require additional approvals for specific aspects of the development.

Planning enforcement is the process of investigating and resolving possible breaches of planning law. Breaches might include:

Local planning authorities have discretionary power to investigate and enforce these breaches using whatever enforcement action may be necessary in the public interest.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states ‘...local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. Local planning authorities should consider publishing a local enforcement plan to manage enforcement proactively in a way that is appropriate to their area. This should set out how they will monitor the implementation of planning permissions, investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development and take action where it is appropriate to do so.’

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 sets time limits for enforcement, after which developments are immune from action. In most cases, these are:

  • Within four years of substantial completion for a breach of planning control consisting of operational development.
  • Within four years for an unauthorised change of use to a single dwellinghouse.
  • Within ten years for any other breach of planning control (changes of use).

Possible enforcement actions include:

  • No formal action.
  • Retrospective planning application.
  • Planning contravention notice (to require information or seek suggestions for how to remedy the breach).
  • Enforcement Notice (giving notice of what the breach is and setting out the steps the local authority require to remedy the breach).
  • Planning Enforcement Order (when a person has deliberately concealed unauthorised development, a planning enforcement order enables action to be taken notwithstanding the fact that the time limit may have expired).
  • Stop Notice (prohibiting activities in a related enforcement notice).
  • Temporary Stop Notice (requiring that an activity which is a breach of planning control should stop immediately).
  • Breach of Condition Notice.
  • Injunction.

For more information see Planning Practice Guidance, Planning enforcement – overview.

It is illegal to disobey an enforcement notice (unless it is successfully appealed) and failure to comply can result in prosecution.

Building owners may appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against an enforcement notice on specific grounds as long as the appeal is received by the Planning Inspectorate before the ‘effective date’ on the notice. See Planning Portal Enforcement appeals for more information.

However, it is important to note that enforcement action is discretionary and so it may be more productive to seek early engagement with the local authority and to attempt to negotiate an agreement before an enforcement notice is served, rather than appealing.

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