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What is a planning breach?

Planning permission from the local planning authority is usually needed to undertake development (that is, to carry out building works and/or to ‘materially’ change how a property is used).

Failure to obtain planning permission where it is required or to adhere to conditions attached to planning permission constitutes a ‘planning breach’.

How do local planning authorities respond to planning breaches?

A local planning authority is not required to take enforcement action if it discovers planning breach. It may invite the individual or developer to submit a retrospective planning application.

It is up to local planning authorities whether they take enforcement action and what type of enforcement action they take. The government states that “enforcement is important for maintaining public confidence in the planning system” but advises local planning authorities to “act proportionately” in responding to planning breaches.

What enforcement powers do local planning authorities have?

If local planning authorities decide to take enforcement action, they have a range of enforcement powers they can use to respond to planning breaches.

For example, a local planning authority can use an enforcement notice to require a developer to address a planning breach; this might involve stopping works or removing a building from land.

There are time limits on enforcement action. A local planning authority can take enforcement action within ten years of when a breach occurred.

What happens if someone does not comply with enforcement action?

It is generally not an offence to undertake development without planning permission where it is required, or to not adhere to conditions attached to planning permission.

Failure to comply with enforcement action is a criminal offence that can result in a fine.

Planning enforcement statistics

The most common form of enforcement action used by planning authorities are enforcement notices. They made up almost half (47%) of enforcement action taken by district planning authorities in England.

The enforcement action taken by district planning authorities has declined in the past decade. For example, the number of enforcement notices issued in 2022/23 (3,585) was 24% lower than the number issued in 2013/14 (4,708).

Concerns about lack of enforcement

Some organisations have expressed concern about the lack of enforcement action by local planning authorities. The Royal Town Planning Institute has said a lack of capacity and resourcing constraints have led to a backlog of enforcement cases and delays in processing cases.

Response to concerns

In response to calls that enforcement powers should be strengthened, the government made changes through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023. For example, the 2023 Act extended the time limits for enforcement action to ten years in all cases.

Some organisations, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute, welcomed the changes to enforcement powers. Others expressed concern, however, that the changes did not address resourcing constraints.

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