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A breach of planning control is defined in section 171A of the  Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as:

  • the carrying out of development without the required planning permission; or
  • failing to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted.

Any contravention of the limitations on, or conditions belonging to, permitted development rights, under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, constitutes a breach of planning control against which enforcement action may be taken.

In summary, the main principles of planning enforcement are:

  • The use of enforcement powers is discretionary
  • Carrying out development without planning permission is not an offence - it may be unauthorised but is not illegal
  • Planning permission may be sought retrospectively

All authorities need an Enforcement Policy in place which clearly sets out how they will deal with enforcement complaints, including dealing with both complainants and alleged offenders. Whilst each authority will need to establish policies suitable for their own local circumstances, as a minimum an enforcement policy should establish the following basic procedures:

  • How each enforcement complaint will be prioritised, both on initial receipt and the process for re-categorisation following an initial site visit
  • The timescale within which a site will be first visited - this should be related to the priority afforded to the complaint
  • Targets for the overall time taken to deal with different categories of complaint - a service level agreement with the council's legal section signing up to targets for legal work dealing with different requests/instructions
  • Targeted timescales for responding to complainants and alleged offenders at key stages of the process
  • How anonymous complaints will be dealt with
  • How confidentiality issues will be handled, including how the council will usually respond to 'freedom of information' requests, and in what circumstance the council might wish to use information which might identify a complainant.