Local planning authorities have various powers to deal with situations where development has taken place without the requisite permission having been obtained. Planning enforcement is an important part of the planning process. Whilst it is discretionary, it is crucial in maintaining confidence in the planning system.
If anyone wishes to carry out development other than permitted development (which is development exempted from requiring specific planning consent), they should obtain planning permission, and any other relevant consents, from the council first. Whilst it is not always a criminal offence to carry out development without planning permission, it may still constitute a contravention of planning laws and the council has the power to enforce these laws.
If anyone is unsure if planning permission is needed, the government’s Planning Portal web site gives advice for many common householder and business developments in an easy to operate interactive format. To access the Planning Portal use the link below:
Planning Portal (external website)
Alternatively the council offers a service to inform whether or not permission is required for the development proposed.
National Policy and Local Enforcement Plan
The council is guided by government policy in the National Planning Policy Framework, which has replaced “Planning Policy Guidance – Enforcing Planning Control (PPG 18)”. This framework guidance is supplemented by the Government Circular “Enforcing Planning Control - good practice guide and legislative provisions and procedural requirements” that remains in force and is a relevant consideration. The National Planning Policy Framework advises each council to consider publishing a Local Enforcement Plan (LEP) to manage enforcement proactively, in a way that is appropriate to their area. This LEP should set out how to monitor the implementation of permissions, investigate alleged cases of unauthorised development and take action where it is appropriate to do so. The information contained on this page is deemed to constitute the council's LEP.
Considerations over breaches of planning control
In considering any possible planning enforcement action, the decisive issue for the council, as local planning authority, is whether the breach of control would unacceptably affect public amenity, meriting action in the public interest.
Any enforcement action should always be commensurate with the breach of planning control to which it relates. For example, it is usually inappropriate to take formal enforcement action against a trivial or technical breach of control which causes no harm to amenity in the locality. Also where the council's initial attempt to persuade the wrongdoer to voluntarily remedy the harmful effects of unauthorised development fails, negotiations should not hamper or delay whatever enforcement action may be required to make the development acceptable.
The council, however, receives between 1500 and 2000 enforcement enquiries every year. Over half of these enquiries are dealt with quickly as usually there is no breach of planning control, or we find a minor technical breach and no formal action is necessary. These are dealt with on an informal basis.
The Local Ombudsman has held in a number of cases that there is “maladministration” if the authority fails to take effective enforcement action which was plainly necessary and has occasionally recommended a compensatory payment to a complainant for any injustice. In each case an authority must have a properly documented record of their investigation together with documented reasons why the council decided to take, or not take, enforcement action. Provided such a record is maintained, the Local Government Ombudsman is normally content that no maladministration has occurred.
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The current enforcement team consists of 6 planning enforcement officers. They are area based and work is distributed according to workload and specialist skills. There are also two site monitoring officers. The site monitoring officers deal with the council’s proactive checks on building sites, ensuring that conditions imposed on planning approvals are complied with. The site monitoring officers are targeted at development as directed by the head of service, as necessary, to take into consideration development trends and workloads. The enforcement and site monitoring officers report to a principal enforcement officer, who reports directly to the head of service.
Efficiency and working practices
To achieve an efficient enforcement service which maintains acceptable levels of performance, standard operating procedures are used for both investigating complaints and monitoring development works or planning conditions. Pro-active enforcement is important to prevent the enforcement function being a solely reactive response.
The enforcement function relies on other officers, councillors, parish/town councils and the public to be the enforcement team’s eyes and ears. To provide a more intensive service without input from others over the 933 square miles of the East Riding of Yorkshire would require a substantial increase in staff resources devoted to this activity.
When enforcement complaints are being investigated the enforcement team will seek to keep both the complainant and the contravener informed as the investigation proceeds. This is considered important to both parties, who may claim to be victimised or dealt with too harshly. If formal action is required any notices served will be communicated to interested parties and relevant agencies including parish/town councils and appropriate ward councillors.
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Common types of cases reported as potential unauthorised development in the East Riding include:
- residential developments/extensions;
- breaches of planning conditions (eg hours of operation, noise levels generated etc);
- commercial developments (unauthorised shops/offices/industrial operations);
- unauthorised changes of use;
- land uses adversely affecting amenity;
- unauthorised advertisements;
- unauthorised structures (new buildings and extensions)
The following document provides guidance relating to unauthorised development.
Enforcement leaflet (pdf 340kb opens in new window) Top of page
You can report potential unauthorised building developments using the link below.
Report potential unauthorised building developments online
Read on for further information of what will happen to your complaint. Please note all complaints are treated confidentially.
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We will acknowledge your complaint within two working days and let you know the name of the officer who will be dealing with your complaint (unless you have already contacted that officer direct and he has already confirmed this information to you).
We investigate all complaints and first of all check to see if there has been a breach of planning control. We do this by looking at our records and relevant planning applications. If it is clear that no planning rules have been broken we will contact you explaining why no further action will be taken. However, many complaints need further detailed investigation before deciding if there has, or has not been, a breach.
The council will always investigate when a breach occurs and will normally give the owner or person carrying out the works the opportunity to rectify the matter informally.
This can be either by;
- the submission of a planning application or other related applications to resolve the matter; or;
- by ceasing the activity or removing or modifying the unauthorised works.
In some cases the breach is so minor or of so little consequence, that no further action will be taken.
The council will always try and resolve breaches of planning control without recourse to formal powers, however, where such negotiations fail it will always consider whether it is necessary to take enforcement action and what type of action it is reasonable to take.
Procedures undertaken following the receipt of a complaint up to a potential prosecution
The council follows a set procedure when investigating a complaint based on the following:
- Complaint is received and prioritised.
- Acknowledgement is sent if required. (ie if the complainant has not personally contacted the officer dealing with the complaint)
- If an initial investigation reveals the complaint is not subject to planning control, refer the complaint, if necessary, to other departments or agencies giving contact details to the complainant before closing the case.
- Undertake a site visit and evaluate the extent of the breach.
- Formulate a plan of action, if necessary in consultation with the principal enforcement officer.
- Update all interested parties.
- Issue a warning letter.
- Request divisional managers to provide reasons for expediency and the steps required to be taken to resolve the issues. On receipt draft relevant notices.
- Draft notices forwarded to legal services by principal enforcement officer.
- Principal enforcement officer requests authorisation from head of service, before instructing legal services to serve the formal notice.
- When a notice has been issued inform ward councillors and interested parties.
- If the notice is appealed await the outcome of the appeal before any further action is taken.
- After the date of compliance for a notice is reached undertake inspections and prepare evidence for prosecution or consider direct action as required.
- If a prosecution is deemed necessary, seek authorisation from head of service and instruct legal services accordingly. The principal enforcement officer, where possible, will assume the disclosure officer’s role. (The disclosure officer is responsible for examining material retained during the investigation, revealing certain categories of material and certifying that this has been done in accordance with Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996).
- Update all parties of the outcome, including any press releases as necessary.
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In most enforcement investigations negotiation is the main activity and formal enforcement notices should normally be issued only where all other avenues to rectify the situation have been exhausted.
There are two important points to be considered: -
- Other than in specific circumstances i.e. works to Listed Buildings or
displaying advertisements, it is not generally an offence to carry out
development without first obtaining planning permission. It only becomes an
offence when there is failure to comply with enforcement action undertaken by
- Enforcement is rarely an instant remedy to unauthorised development. The
council has a statutory power to issue a “Stop Notice” or “Temporary Stop
Notice”, but this is open to potential appeals and claims for
compensation. Whilst the benefits of serving either of the stop notice options will usually lead to an improvement in the amenity of a neighbourhood, a Stop
Notice should only be used where the continuation of a breach would
result in significant permanent or continuing harm to the environment. Therefore the use of a Stop Notice or Temporary Stop Notice will only be applicable in a small proportion of cases.
Where a breach of planning control is established, it is the practice of the council to seek to negotiate and attempt to persuade the owner or developer voluntarily to remedy the breach of control. The council's practice is in the first instance to send at least one warning letter asking for either;
- the activity/development to cease, be removed or modified to comply with an existing permission within a fixed time period or,
- to apply retrospectively for planning permission within a fixed time period.
If there is a breach of planning control then the person responsible will be asked to take corrective action to resolve the breach.
This could be by;
- submitting a retrospective planning application;
- ceasing the unauthorised activities and/or removing any unauthorised development;
- demonstrating that planning permission has been obtained or is not required
- negotiating improvements, or;
- asking the person responsible to alter a structure or relocate a use.
Most people do take the positive steps required to rectify the situation and formal
enforcement activity is only necessary in a small number of cases.
Enforcement investigation priorities
The council investigates all complaints received but with the following receiving the highest priority.
- Any unauthorised development or non-compliance with a planning condition or limitation or other planning agreement, which is causing immediate and/or
irremediable harm in the locality.
- Unauthorised demolition or partial demolition of a building which it is considered essential to retain.
- Unauthorised works to a Listed Building (initially investigated by specialist
- Unauthorised works to protected trees (initially investigated by specialist officers).
- Unauthorised works involving minerals and waste (initially investigated by
- Unauthorised development in a conservation area.
- Display of illegal advertisements that are considered to present a danger.
- Unauthorised development which has been undetected and where the time limit for enforcement action will expire within the following six months.
The following matters receive a lower priority.
- Display of illegal advertisements not considered to pose a danger.
- All other complaints (including anonymous complaints) relating to unauthorised development not falling in any of the above categories.
Considering enforcement action
In considering enforcement action, the council will assess if the development conforms with current local plan policies and national planning policies. It also considers whether the breach of planning control causes an unacceptable effect to public amenity or harm to land or buildings. When a complaint is received, the first action is to inspect the site and verify information. It is then necessary to consider:
- Has a breach of planning control taken place?
- Is it likely permission would have been refused if an application had been
- Is it likely permission would have been granted subject to conditions if an application had been submitted, which would control those aspects of the development about which the complaint relates.
- In which priority category of the council does it fall, i.e. how
detrimental/urgent is it?
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The council will need to make sure that the wording on the notice is precise and exact and that the notice is served on the right people. This often involves taking legal advice beforehand.
The requirements of an enforcement notice.
Any notice that is served will require certain steps to be taken within a specified period of time.
Where a breach is causing serious harm, the council can issue a Stop Notice or obtain an injunction, although this is only appropriate in exceptional cases. Immediate prosecution can also take place where the breach involves a criminal offence such as unauthorised demolition of a listed building, unauthorised demolition in a conservation area or the unauthorised felling of a protected tree or a tree in a conservation area.
Time limits for the service of an enforcement notice.
There are time limits for taking enforcement action. Built development (such as a house extension, new outbuildings) becomes lawful four years after substantial completion, whilst the time limit for most unauthorised uses (such as change of use from a home to a shop) and breach of conditions is ten years.
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The recipient(s) of the notice has a right of appeal and the notice can be challenged if it is inaccurate. Find out how to appeal through the link below.
Planning Portal - Enforcement appeals (external website)
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This is a formal notice used to bring about the cessation of an activity on land or secure removal of unauthorised development. It requires specific steps to be taken
within a specified time limit to remedy the breach. There is a right of appeal on
specified grounds to an Enforcement Notice, which will be heard by an Inspector
appointed by the Secretary of State. If an Enforcement Notice is not appealed
against, or is upheld at appeal then the council has the power to bring prosecution
proceedings if the notice is not complied with within the specified time limits.
Waste Land Notice
A notice can be served by the local planning authority requiring land to be tidied, pursuant to Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The recipient has a right of appeal to the Magistrates’ Court against issue of the notice.
Failure to comply with the notice within the required time scales constitutes an offence, and may result in prosecution.
If the council feels it necessary, having served an Enforcement Notice, to ensure that a use or activity stops as soon as possible, then it can serve a Stop Notice. Such
action will only be taken where significant adverse effects are being caused or the
activity would result in long term damage to the environment by a development and
immediate action is necessary.
Breach of Condition Notice
This form of notice is used where the breach involves non-compliance with a condition on a planning approval. For example, the failure to provide a landscaping
scheme as required by a condition. There is no right of appeal against a Breach of
Condition Notice, so this can be a very effective form of action. However, a right of appeal exists against the condition(s) specified in the planning approval notice of decision, which is effective for 6 months from the planning decision being issued.
Planning Contravention Notice
This form of notice gives the council power to obtain information about suspected breaches of planning control, and to endeavour to secure the co-operation of the
alleged offender. The notice may require the person on whom it is served to give
information as to:
- any operations being carried out on the land, any use of the land and any other activities being carried out on the land; and;
- any matter relating to the conditions or limitations subject to which any planning permission in respect of the land has been granted.
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The council has undertaken enforcement action against the permanent occupation of caravans at Lakeminster Park. The latest information relating to the appeal can be obtained by clicking on the link document below.
Lakeminster Park - frequently asked questions (pdf 63kb opens in new window)
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