Key considerations in the investigation of alleged breaches
In the circumstances where an enforcement investigation identifies that unauthorised development has taken place, the decisive issue for the Council in considering whether it is expedient to pursue the matter; is the development in question unacceptable in planning terms such that planning permission would not be granted?
The fact that a development does not benefit from the required planning permission is not in itself sufficient justification for pursuing the matter.
Where enforcement action is taken, it must be proportionate to and commensurate with the breach of planning control to which it relates. For example, whilst clearly harmful breaches of planning control should be addressed by appropriate means, it is not expedient to pursue minor or technical breaches which cause no planning harm or where unauthorised development is acceptable in planning terms.
The investigation process
The speed with which an investigation can be undertaken varies between straightforward cases which can often be concluded quickly and more complex investigations which can take considerably longer.
Upon receipt of an investigation request, we will check that the issue in question is a planning matter. If it isn’t we will tell you as quickly as possible and where appropriate forward the concern onto another relevant Council team or external organisation. At this stage, we may also request further information from you to help with the investigation, for example keeping a record of activity in respect of the use of land or buildings over an appropriate period.
Before we begin an investigation, we will also ask you to provide your name and contact details in confidence so that we can update you on progress. Your details will remain confidential at all times during the initial investigation*. This is because we need to ensure that we use our resources as effectively as possible and in order to prevent the investigation of spurious issues, anonymous complaints are not usually investigated.
All first site visits are prioritised in accordance with the Council’s scheme of prioritisation which is included in Appendix 1. If we are unable to investigate an issue that you have raised we will tell you the reason for this. Where an investigation is commenced, after an initial site inspection and assessment has been made, we will tell you what will happen next.
There are a number of potential outcomes of an enforcement investigation which are principally
- Where there is no breach of planning control or a minor breach: no further action will be taken.
- Where it is considered that planning permission would be likely to be granted for the unauthorised development, we will request that an application is made. However, if no such application is submitted, no further action will be taken.
- Where there is a breach of planning control which is unacceptable in planning terms, we will offer the responsible parties one opportunity to resolve the matter voluntarily. Where the matter is not satisfactorily resolved by that means, if it is expedient to do so, formal enforcement action will be taken.
* Where an investigation results in enforcement action being taken which is the subject of an appeal or prosecution, it is sometimes necessary for 3rd party details to be disclosed.
How you can help
If you have reported a breach which the Council is investigating, please be aware that in order to ensure that the investigation is undertaken comprehensively, this may take longer than you might expect. We will aim to keep you updated at regular intervals as the investigation progresses.
When you initially tell us about the issue of concern, please provide as much information as you can to help us to investigate the matter as quickly as possible. At this or a later stage, we may also request further information from you to help with the investigation, for example keeping a record of activity in respect of the use of land or buildings over an appropriate period.
If you are the subject of an investigation, your co-operation in assisting us to undertake that investigation will in many cases enable us to advise that there is either no breach of planning control or no remedial action to be undertaken. If a breach is identified and you are requested to undertake works to voluntarily resolve the matter, your co-operation in doing so within the timescale given will in most circumstances prevent the consideration of the use of formal action.
Whilst it is understood that you may wish to know where the complaint about your property has come from, all such complaints are treated confidentially and we will not be able to provide you with that information.
Please note: The planning enforcement team are currently experiencing a very high volume of cases which may delay the investigating of your complaint.
High priority cases - Priority 1 cases (see Appendix 1) will be investigated within the timeframe detailed. We will endeavour to progress other cases as promptly as possible.
For information on how we handle and process your personal data, please visit the Enforcement Privacy Notice page.