Your guide to planning enforcement and its powers

Please note that we are experiencing high volumes of work which is causing delays to our response times. We are working hard to address this and thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.

Planning enforcement

Planning enforcement is where the Council investigates complaints about work that might not have planning permission. In some cases planning permission is necessary before work starts. Yet some minor works or changes of use do not need permission. You should check with the Council first.

Where there is a breach, the enforcement team will investigate the matter. It is important to realise that enforcement action is at the discretion of the Council.

Planning enforcement is a very complex area. This work is often lengthy and complicated and takes some time. In dealing with breaches there is a need to strike a balance between:

  • protecting the environment
  • protecting the amenities of neighbours
  • conserving historic buildings and areas

The above needs to be weighed with an owner's rights to alter their property as they wish.

The main breaches of planning control include:

  • Building or engineering work and the change of use of land without a planning permission
  • Unauthorised work to protected trees
  • Breach of planning conditions
  • Breach of a Section 106 Agreement
  • Non-compliance with approved plans attached to planning permissions
  • Unauthorised advertisements or signs
  • Unauthorised change of use of land/buildings
  • Land or buildings in such poor condition that it affects the amenity of the area
  • Unauthorised works to a listed building
  • Unauthorised demolition work in a conservation area
  • Unauthorised deposit of waste or mineral extraction

Situations that do not involve a breach of planning control such as:

  • land ownership disputes
  • breaches of a covenant

are not enforcement matters.

We will operate our enforcement as per Government and Council policy. This means that:

  • We must decide whether the breach of planning control affects amenity
  • Action will not be taken only because development has started without planning permission
  • It is not normal to take formal action against a minor breach of control that causes no real harm

Please speak to your neighbour first before contacting the Council. You may find that your neighbour has already found out if planning permission is required. Involving the Council can often cause friction between neighbours. A friendly conversation with your neighbour could result in them making minor alterations. This could overcome your concerns without causing any unnecessary upset.

Enforcement objectives

The Council has established the following objectives for the planning enforcement strategy:

  • To remedy the undesirable effects of unauthorised development
  • To strike a balance between protecting amenity/environment and allowing acceptable works
  • To ensure that the credibility of the planning system is not undermined
  • To carry out all enforcement duties under the principles of the Enforcement Concordat, particularly regarding:
    • openness
    • helpfulness
    • proportionality and
    • consistency
  • To be both pro-active about the monitoring of development to ensure compliance with conditions imposed on planning permissions and also reactive in the investigation of complaints
  • To work with other agencies and organisations.

We have published the Planning Enforcement Plan.  It provides guidance for businesses, planning professionals and the public.  It sets out the aims, standards and values applied by our planning enforcement team.

The Law

The main legislation covering enforcement is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.  Under the Act the Council has powers:

  • to enter land to make necessary inspections
  • to require owners and occupiers to provide information about the ownership and use of land and buildings
  • to serve enforcement and other notices on landowners 

It is important for the Council to take action against unacceptable development.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the supporting National Planning Practice Guidance sets out advice on how to deal with breaches of planning control. It states that Councils should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.

Before enforcement action, the crucial issue is whether the breach of planning control is unacceptable. If yes, then it is expedient to take enforcement action. 

In other words we should take action as the harm caused needs to stop. Enforcement action should not be taken against trivial or technical breaches of planning control that cause no harm. 

Planning enforcement powers

Planning enforcement issues are usually dealt with without taking formal action.

If negotiation fails to solve the problem, the enforcement team can use:

Planning Contravention Notices (PCN) - This notice seeks information about the development

Enforcement Notices - This notice is served against breaches of planning control

Breach of Condition Notices (BCN) - This notice relates to a breach of  a planning condition

Section 215 Notices - This notice can make a landowner to tidy up land. The notice again will set out steps that the owner has to take and a timetable.

Listed Building Enforcement Notice - This notice iis like an Enforcement Notice for listed buildings

Stop Notice – This notice is only served in conjunction with an Enforcement Notice in exceptional circumstances to stop work

Temporary Stop Notice - This notice requires work to stop for 28 days while the Council investigates

Prosecution -  Court Prosecutions are used for the failure to comply with the notices listed above.  Offences also include unauthorised works to:

  • protected trees
  • adverts
  • listed buildings

Injunction - An injunction is only sought, in the County or High Court, in the most exceptional investigations.  It is used as a last resort if the Council wants to prevent to stop unauthorised development.

Appeals - An appeal may be lodged with the Planning Inspectorate against an enforcement notice before it comes into effect on one of seven specified grounds.  If an appeal is made the requirements of the notice stop until the appeal is decided.  Appeals against enforcement notices may sometimes take up to a year.

If an appeal is allowed, the notice no longer applies. If an appeal is dismissed, legal action can only be taken if an individual then fails to comply with the enforcement notice.

There are time limits for taking enforcement action:

  • four years after completion for the erection of buildings and change of use of buildings to residential use and
  • ten years for most changes of use of land or buildings and breach of condition.

Report a breach of planning control

Report a breach of planning control online

It is important that you provide as much information as possible on the complaint form about the alleged breach. We will need:

  • Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address (if applicable)
  • The exact address/location of the site where the alleged breach is
  • The name and address of the person(s)/company/developer carrying out the breach (if known)
  • The nature of the complaint – what do you think the breach of planning control is?
  • When the problem started
  • What problem(s)/harm the development is causing to you, or to the environment
  • Whether the problems(s)/harm is continuing or likely to get worse
  • Whether you wish to be notified of the outcome of the investigation
  • What you would like the Council to do

We keep the right to investigate any matters if this is felt to be in the public interest.

Anonymous complaints

To avoid malicious complaints, we will not deal with anonymous allegations of breaches of planning control.  If you give your name, address, or any other details, this will be in the strictest confidence so far as legislation permits. 

Should you still wish to remain anonymous, you should speak to your Councillor.


If you have supplied evidence which is vital to the investigation, you may need to give that evidence at a hearing but only when you are sure you want to do so.

You should remember that the person whose activities you have complained of may think he/she knows that you have made a complaint:

  • because of things you have said to him/her
  • someone else tells them what you have told them
  • the nature of the complaint makes it obvious that you are the person that has complained.

If the activity you have complained about becomes the subject of a planning application, you can make your views on the application in writing.  Written comments we receive on a valid planning application cannot be treated in confidence. But the initial complaint to the enforcement team will remain private. 

The Council also has a duty to protect the privacy of the person who is the subject of the complaint.  We are unable to provide you with any updates during the course of our investigation. Such information is also likely to be exempt from release under Freedom of Information.


We will prioritise your issue according to the seriousness of the issue.

Those of a more serious nature that may involve irreparable harm to public health and safety or the environment are high priority.

What happens to my complaint and how long does it take?

Firstly we will contact you if it appears that the matter might:

  • not be a breach of planning control or
  • be a minor technical breach.

If an investigation is necessary it is likely that we would visit the site and speak with the person responsible for the works. 

Investigations can take a considerable amount of time:

  • It might be necessary to serve formal questionnaires to establish the facts/history of the matter.  Information might need to be supplied by other people or we might need to consult with other agencies or services within the Council.  This can all take time. 
  • It takes an average of 9 weeks to conclude an investigation where there is no breach of planning control
  • If there is a breach of planning control, it can take an average of between 16 – 30 weeks to conclude an investigation.

We may ask you to complete diary sheets.  This helps us to assess the level of activity to establish:

  • whether there is an ongoing breach of planning control or
  • to assess the level of harm.

For example, a condition relating to operating hours has been breached on one day – the Council would not investigate this or take any action because there would be insufficient harm. If the operating hours are being breached every day for 3 weeks – the Council would investigate it as a regular pattern is emerging.

If we ask for diary sheets, please include as much information as possible regarding:

  • times
  • dates
  • duration

of the works along with any other information.

Please note that we are unable to receive photographs by email at present.

Updates on any investigation

Under the General Data Protection Regulations the Council has a duty to protect the privacy of both:

  • the person who is the subject of the complaint and
  • the person reporting the complaint. 

We are unable to provide you with any updates or information during the course of our investigation. Such information is also likely to be exempt from release under Freedom of Information. You will receive a summary of our findings once the investigation finishes.


Where there is a breach of planning control, the outcomes include:

  • retrospective planning application
  • Certificate of Lawfulness (immune from enforcement)
  • no further action (not expedient)
  • negotiate remedial works
  • formal action

Retrospective planning application

The Law allows for planning applications to be submitted retrospectively. If it is considered that the development could be acceptable, a planning application can be invited. 

However, it is important to remember that the Council cannot make someone submit an application. In these cases we will have to decide whether to take enforcement action or not depending on the harm.

Certificate of Lawfulness/Immune from enforcement action

The Law states that development can become lawful if it has been in situ for a period of time - 4 years or 10 years depending on what type of development has occurred. 

The developer may decide to submit an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness to prove that the development has existed for the required period of time. The Council cannot make them do so. 

If an application is not submitted but we have evidence that the development has existed for the required period of time, the matter will be closed.  The development is immune from enforcement action. 

No further action (not expedient)

If the development is acceptable in planning terms (no harm is caused) the Council cannot take formal action against it.  

The officer will consider the development against local and national planning policies and will assess whether the development causes harm. If it doesn‘t the case will be closed and no further action taken.  This is in accordance with the government guidance. 

Negotiate remedial works

We may consider that the development could be made acceptable with some amendments.  We could seek to achieve the amendments by negotiation in order to remedy any harm that is being caused. 

Negotiating a solution will always be quicker than taking formal action. It takes 16 weeks on average.

Formal action

If the development is unacceptable the Council must seek to remedy the matter amicably first by requesting its removal. 

If that is not successful, the Council will consider what type of formal action is appropriate to remedy the matter. 

If at this stage you have crucial evidence that the Council needs to rely on, we will contact you.  We will ask that you:

  • provide formal statements to support the Council in formal action and
  • attend any appeal/court hearing as a witness. 

Formal action can take up to 30 weeks or longer.

If an enforcement notice has been issued, the recipient has a right of appeal.  You may be contacted to ask if you wish to:

  • submit additional information or
  • appear at an inquiry or hearing to support the Council’s case. 

Once an appeal has been lodged any subsequent representations received become public documents.  these are available for public inspection, including the appellant and their legal representatives.  Action is then on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.

More information can be found in relation to this process by visiting Planning Enforcement and the government's guidance on effective enforcement.

Other useful contacts: 

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