Last Updated: 4 September 2023
Find out the different types of informal and formal planning enforcement action we can take. How we deal with issuing enforcement notices, stop notices, listed building enforcement notices and untidy land notices. Also details about how we make prosecutions and our rights of entry.
No formal enforcement action
We won't take formal action if there has been no breach of the rules or if formal action isn't appropriate.
When we have carried out our first investigations, we may decide that there is no breach of planning rules. We will let all parties know and close the case.
When formal action may not be appropriate
We may decide there is a breach, but it is minor and does not cause significant harm or impact on the neighbourhood, so we may not take any further action. If we decide it is not appropriate to take enforcement action, we will let all parties know and close the case.
Dealing with breaches of planning control without taking formal enforcement action is often the quickest and most cost effective way of achieving a satisfactory and lasting solution.
If the unauthorised development is in line with local and national planning policies, we will usually suggest (without prejudice to the outcome) the person responsible for the unauthorised development/owner to put it right by making a retrospective planning application. A retrospective application will be considered in the same way as a normal planning application.
If the development is immune from enforcement action due to the passage of time, you can apply for a lawful development certificate.
Formal enforcement action
We will take enforcement action when we consider the breach serious and there is clear public interest in enforcing planning law.
When planning permission is unlikely to be granted for unauthorised development because of its harmful effect on the neighbourhood, we will ask for the use to stop or the unauthorised works to be removed.
The person(s) responsible for the unauthorised development will be notified that we intend to take formal enforcement action.
Planning contravention notice (PCN)
When we believe a breach of planning control may have occurred, we can serve a planning contravention notice to find out more information about the operations or activities being carried out on the land.
This must be completed honestly and returned to us within 21 days. It is a criminal offence not to respond or to provide false or misleading information.
Breach of condition notice (BCN)
A breach of condition notice is usually served as an alternative to an enforcement notice to remedy a breach of condition.
We will issue one where we think it appropriate to stop the breach quickly.
If the person responsible for the breach does not comply with the conditions and any specified steps contained in the notice, they will be guilty of an offence. We may bring a prosecution in the Magistrate’s Court for the contravention of the BCN
We will issue an enforcement notice only when we are sure that the breach cannot be remedied by any further negotiations.
We will serve an enforcement notice on each of the following:
- the owner of the land
- the occupier of the land
- anyone who has an interest in the land affected by the enforcement notice
We must take all reasonable steps to identify who should be served with an enforcement notice. We can do this either by serving a planning contravention notice, completing a search at Companies House or the Land Registry.
The planning enforcement notice should enable every person who receives a copy to know:
- exactly what the alleged breach is
- what steps we require to be taken, or what activities must cease to remedy the breach
We will enclose information about how to make an appeal.
Listed building enforcement notice
A listed building enforcement notice is similar to a planning enforcement notice. The main differences between the listed building enforcement and planning enforcement provisions are:
- Unlike breaches of planning control, which become immune from enforcement action after 4 or 10 years, breaches of the listed building consent regulations never become immune.
- It is particularly important to be aware of this if you are taking over a listed building which has been altered in the past. You need to be sure that any works carried out to it have been approved or did not need consent. Unauthorised works to a listed building is an offence, irrespective of whether a listed building enforcement notice has been served.
A stop notice prohibits the carrying out of activities in breach of planning control on land which is subject to an enforcement notice. A stop notice can only be served if an enforcement notice has also been served. It can be served at the same time as an enforcement notice or at any time before the enforcement notice takes effect.
We normally use a stop notice for two reasons:
- enforcement notices cannot take effect until at least 28 days after they have been served
- if an appeal is lodged against the enforcement notice, the effect of the notice is suspended until the appeal is decided
Either of these situations means it could be a long time before we can take action to enforce the breach, so a stop notice can be effective in bringing unauthorised activities to an end before the enforcement notice takes effect.
A stop notice ceases to have effect in the following situations:
- if we withdraw the related enforcement notice or it is quashed on appeal
- if we withdraw the stop notice
- when the time period for compliance in the related enforcement notice expires
- if the related enforcement notice is varied on appeal, so that the activity forbidden in the stop notice is no longer breach of planning control
A stop notice cannot be used to prevent:
- the use of a building as a dwelling house, or
- any activity that has been carried out, continuously or not, for more than 4 years
We will serve a stop notice on the following:
- anybody who appears to have an interest in the land and/or
- anybody who appears to carrying out the activity forbidden by an enforcement notice
We may display a site notice on the land then action can be taken against anyone who does anything that breaches the stop notice. The information on the site notice will include
- the date the stop notice was served
- the date the stop notice takes effect
- the steps needed to comply with the stop notice
- that failure to comply with the stop notice is an offence
A stop notice must include the following:
- reference to the related enforcement notice
- a copy of the related enforcement notice must be attached
- the date the stop notice comes into effect (between 3 and 28 days after the date the stop notice was served). It can come into effect immediately if there are special reasons
- statement of special reasons (where applicable)
- case officer details
It is a criminal offence not to comply with a stop notice. There is an unlimited fine.
Temporary stop notice
We can serve a temporary stop notice if we consider it necessary to stop the unauthorised activity or development immediately to safeguard the amenity of the area and prevent further lasting harm.
A temporary stop notice is immediate and does not need to be accompanied by an enforcement notice. It can only be used to stop further development. It cannot require unauthorised work to be removed or prohibit the use of a building as a dwelling.
A temporary stop notice is effective for up to 28 days, while we consider if further enforcement action is necessary.
Untidy land or building notices (Section 215)
We can serve an amenity notice on the owner and occupiers of any land or building which is in an unreasonably untidy condition, where we consider it is having an adverse effect on the local amenity of the area.
We aim to achieve a good quality and lasting solution for the local neighbourhood. We will decide if serving such a notice is appropriate, taking into account the following criteria:
- the condition of the building, structure or land
- the location and prominence of the building, structure or land
- the historic or architectural importance of the building or structure or the effect of the untidy land on the setting of adjacent historic buildings
- the impact on the street scene
- the impact of the untidy land on a conservation area(s)
Before we serve an untidy land notice, we will write to the owners and occupiers, setting out the action they need to take. We will give them 21 days to comply after which we will decide if it is appropriate to serve a formal S.215 notice.
If we issue a S.215 Notice, we will make sure that the wording is clear, precise and easy for all to understand. We will set a precise timescale for the required work to be carried out.
We can apply to the County Court or the High Court for an injunction to stop an actual or imminent breach of planning or listed building control even if we do not know the identity of the person carrying out or intending to carry out the breach.
We can do this even if we have not taken any other enforcement action.
Failure to comply with an injunction is contempt of court. The penalties can be very serious and may lead to an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment.
If a formal enforcement notice has not been complied with in the specified timescale we can begin court proceedings. A prosecution will normally be our last resort. We will talk to our legal advisors when a prosecution is likely and decide if the two tests below apply:
- the evidential test – do we have sufficient, acceptable and reliable evidence that an offence has been committed (non-compliance with an enforcement notice) and is there reasonable prospect of a successful conviction
- the public interest test – is it in the public interest to bring a prosecution.
Court proceedings can take a long time. We aim to resolve a breach of planning control and the harm caused to the neighbourhood. We do not seek to simply punish those responsible for the breach.
Direct action can be an effective alternative to prosecution as a last resort and in special circumstances. We will carry out the work ourselves to ensure satisfactory compliance with an enforcement notice.
We will seek to recover the cost of the work from the owner and if we cannot, a financial charge will be registered on the land or property.
Rights of entry
The council can allow named officers to enter land specifically for enforcement purposes:
- to ascertain whether there is or has been any breach of planning control on the land or neighbouring land (whether or not in the same ownership or occupied by the person whose land is being investigated)
- to decide whether we should use any of our enforcement powers in relation to the land
- to decide how we should proceed
- to see whether previous enforcement action has been complied with
It is a criminal offence to wilfully obstruct an authorised person in entering the land.