Enforcement matters….

Discharge of Planning Conditions HIgh Peak

The enforcement of planning control is often shrouded in mystery. Here, in the first of 2 parts, our Director Richard Pigott, sets out some of the key components of the system and passes on the benefits of his experience in the public and private sectors.

It is first worth clarifying that the carrying out of ‘development’ (i.e. building works, material changes of use or engineering operations) without the benefit of planning permission is not, initially at least, ‘illegal’ but is better described as ‘unauthorised’. ‘Breaches of planning control’ are normally anonymously flagged by the general public to the local planning authority (LPA). In other words, the system is reactive – rarely do LPA’s proactively monitor compliance with planning consents. I say rarely because there was some proactive monitoring of planning permissions at Macclesfield Borough Council (later to become part of Cheshire East Council) where I started my planning career but this ceased a long time ago and I am not aware of any authorities which do it now due to budgetary constraints.

Once a ‘breach of planning control’ has been identified the local planning authority (LPA) will often invite a landowner to submit a planning application to ‘regularise the breach’ – in other words to retrospectively obtain planning permission for development. In these circumstances, the LPA must assess the application in the same way as if it were a proposed development and not let the fact that it is a retrospective application affect the outcome either way. In my experience, whilst officers are usually adept at making this assessment, councillors sometimes find it harder to put this to the backs of their minds and the phrase “we don’t like retrospective applications” is often heard in council chambers.

If the application is approved, that is generally the end of the matter, with consent issued subject to any relevant conditions minus, of course, the usual 3 year commencement time frame. If the application is refused, however, the landowner then has the option to appeal the decision or rectify the breach of planning control (i.e. to correct the unauthorised works or cease the unauthorised use). If neither of the above happens, the LPA must decide whether it is ‘expedient’ to take enforcement action. The question of expediency, and the options that are open to both the LPA and the landowner moving forward, will be discussed in next month’s follow up article.

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