Planning Enforcement

An hot July evening saw 22 members at St.Mary's Centre to listen to George Goodall, planning school lecturer and Chairman of West Midlands MASA give a lively talk on planning enforcement. A dry subject you would say. Well George certainly kept us awake with a spirited romp through the implications of carrying out development without planning permission, or failing to meet planning conditions attached to a planning permission.

Lesson number one we learned was that if you build your dream house without planning permission and get away with it for four years, then you'll escape prosecution. If you change the use of a building, then you have to survive for ten years before you're immune from prosecution. After those periods of time, your Council can't 'enforce' and require remedial action on your part.

But beware, even if you do breach the planning laws in either of these two ways, enforcement is not automatic. It's a matter of discretion on the part of your District Council (County Councils don't have enforcement powers). If the infringement is minor or (George maintained) could lead to lengthy and expensive litigation on the Council's part, then enforcement action may not be taken.and it's the Council that decides, not any aggrieved party.

Having decided to go for enforcement, the Council has to serve a Planning Contravention Notice, offering the offender a meeting to resolve the issue or an opportunity to apply for planning permission to regularise the situation. If there's no reply within 21 days, then the person upon whom the notice has been served could be fined. Next comes the enforcement notice. Which is a carefully worded legal document, identifying where the breach has occurred and setting out very carefully what has to be done to remedy the breach and by when. Just like a refusal of planning permission, you can appeal against an enforcement notice which will lead to a public inquiry or similar arrangement leading to a decision by the Secretary of State or an inspector.

Just bear in mind that if you're planning to flout the planning laws and get embroiled in enforcement procedures and lose, your dream house could be demolished by the Council who will recharge you for their expense. And if you fail to pay fines imposed on you by the Court (yes the Council can take you to Court) you could have the 'benefit' of a custodial sentence!

Your writer was relieved that George didn't venture one step further and mention the dreaded 'Stop Notice', served by a Council to order you to stop an activity immediately. Luckily, this is rarely used since if a Council gets this one wrong, compensation could run into thousands of pounds!

Roger Hockney
July 2008