Planning Enforcement (Agenda item 9)
Report by Simon Wood, Director of Planning & Building Control.
Simon Wood, the Director of Planning & Building Control presented the report and provided Members with an overview of the Planning Enforcement process.
Enforcement Action was discretionary; however, local planning authorities had a statutory duty to investigate all alleged breaches of planning control. There was a wealth of Government advice available on how planning enforcement should be dealt with and how to address issues around enforcement. National Policy Guidance provided Officers and Members with a clear indication as to how local authorities should address breaches of planning control.
Local authorities were advised to be pragmatic and proportionate in respect of such matters, and it was fair to say that what was important to one individual or group of people might not be quite so important to others, and Enforcement Officers have to ensure that they keep such matters in perspective and deal with them in an appropriate and proportionate manner.
Negotiation was the best tool for Enforcement Officers and again, they were advised to work with applicants, agents, landowners and developers to seek a negotiated resolution.
There would be occasions where the harm in planning terms was so significant and could not be resolved by a retrospective planning application or any remedial action carried out that if it was expedient to take enforcement action (the legal test), then Officers should not be afraid to use the powers open to them.
In terms of the Enforcement Team itself, it had been increased in 2013 and had appointed the existing Manager and a Technical Support Officer and was currently fully staffed. Since then, many internal processes had been created including the on-line Enforcement complaints form, as enforcement was very much a legal process and Officers had to be seen to follow due process and be proportionate /appropriate in everything they did.
Formal action may well end up at appeal or in the courts, and lack of any enforcement action may also end up with complaints to the Council and at the Local Government Ombudsman. There had to be a clear audit trail and a clear reference to the appropriate legislation and tests.
Enforcement was a very busy service which could be seen at page 21 of the agenda pack. Breckland Council received a significant number of cases, and all had to be addressed to decide the best way forward. Paragraph 3.4 of the report highlighted the outcome of cases for the first 5 months of 2021 during which a significant number of cases had been closed with a finding of no breach of development control. Of the 180 cases closed up until May 2021, 125 had either had a finding of no breach of development control/was permitted development, or they had been referred to another service area better placed to address the underlying issues. The Team did not act within a silo: it worked with colleagues in housing, enforcement and environmental health and legal to ensure that it had a corporate approach to enforcement and using all the tools available.
The elements that could not be investigated such as agricultural matters in respect of noise and smell had to be dealt with by the Environment Agency via its licensing process and issues around highways were dealt with by the County Council. The Enforcement Team worked with both agencies, but it could not effectively do their job for them, or vice versa.
Looking at the figures and the outcomes and the 125 cases with no further action, Councillor Clarke thought it would be helpful to illustrate the workflow for the Team: for example, if there were several alleged breaches around the same component that were related to other services rather than planning enforcement.
The Director of Planning & Building Control agreed, as there were some properties/addresses that received a disproportionately large number of complaints and were very challenging in terms of how they were dealt with.
The Chairman stated that in the past, on occasion, Members would be provided with an update on enforcement issues from the Enforcement Team, but as there had been a number of considerable changes within the Team, they were very busy and he would rather have the Team out there doing their job rather than taking up their precious time at meetings.
The Director of Planning & Building Control pointed out that there were on-going discussions about possibly bringing a quarterly report to the Planning Committee in the near future.
The report was otherwise noted.