Planning Enforcement

How planning legislation is enforced, how to report a complaint relating to planning development and the steps taken if a breach occurs.

The Planning System seeks to regulate unauthorised development and use of land through the enforcement of planning law. The effective and proper enforcement of planning control is essential to protect the local environment and the interests of residents, visitors and businesses of our District, from the harmful effects of unauthorised development.

We have the power to enforce planning laws within the district and the South Downs National Park has delegated most enforcement work to us. These powers are wide and varied and ensure that breaches of planning control are investigated and appropriate action taken to secure compliance with planning law.

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Report a Planning Breach

If you suspect that a breach of planning control has taken place, report it to us for investigation.

You can report a suspected breach by using the form below or by writing to the Enforcement Officer. Please note that we can only investigate alleged breaches of planning control if they are made in writing.

The identity of the complainant in all enforcement cases remains confidential.

Investigating Breaches of Planning Control

Enforcement officers will investigate complaints relating to breaches of planning control on a priority coding system. Each case will be allocated a code according to the level of harm caused and the urgency of the case. 

Level 1

  • Demolition or alterations to a Listed Building
  • Demolition in a Conservation Area that is causing immediate and irreparable harm
  • Works to trees subject to a Tree Preservation Order or within a Conservation Area
  • Development that is causing serious harm or danger to the public, such as affecting traffic safety
  • Unauthorised works affecting protected sites such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National and Local Nature Reserves, sites of archaeological interest etc.
  • Unauthorised development that has gone undetected and the statutory time limit for taking enforcement action is imminent

Level 2

  • Development/uses that cause serious harm to the amenities of neighbours or to the character and appearance of an area or are otherwise contrary to significant policies in the Development Plan
  • Advertisements causing serious harm to amenity or public safety
  • Disrepair of a Listed Building
  • Unsightly buildings or untidy land that is causing serious harm to the amenity of neighbours 

Level 3

  • Other advertisements
  • Businesses being operated from home, except where they cause serious harm to the amenity of neighbours
  • Minor works, that is gates, walls, fences, domestic outbuildings and satellite dishes
  • Untidy land and/or buildings

In most cases a site visit will be required to establish whether or not a breach of planning control has occurred. The initial site visits will be conducted within the following timescales:

  • Level 1 cases, within one working day
  • Level 2 cases, within five working days
  • Level 3 cases, within seven working days

If a breach of planning control is identified then the investigating officer will always try and resolve issues by negotiating first, this is not always possible and in these cases further action may be required and the relevant notice served.

Most breaches of planning control are dealt with informally through the co-operation of the landowner or developer removing unauthorised buildings, or stopping unauthorised uses, or submitting a retrospective planning application to regularise the situation.  This is the most cost-effective form of enforcement.  

Should Action be Taken?

The local planning authority has to decide, in the circumstances of each case, whether it is expedient to take action to remedy a breach of planning control.  Members of the public, or Town and Parish Councils, cannot take enforcement action themselves, nor insist that the planning authority does so, on their behalf. 

Sometimes it may not be expedient to take action, such as in the following circumstances:

  • The development or activity taking place may already have, or not need, planning permission (this is frequently the case)
  • Although in breach of planning control, the development or activity taking place is causing so little environmental impact that it is not expedient to take any action
  • There is insufficient evidence of a breach of planning control and the most expedient action is for the local planning authority to continue monitoring the situation
  • The development or activity taking place has been built, or has been going on, for so long (10 years for most uses, 4 years for buildings) that it is immune from enforcement

Rapid remedial action is only possible, or desirable, in a limited number of cases, including unauthorised works to protected trees or listed buildings.  If the development or activity is considered harmful, we will then consider more formal action.

Government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (paragraph 207) states that 'Enforcement action is discretionary, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control'.

It is important to remember that, as in all areas of planning, a balance has to be struck between the interests of the people carrying out development or activities, and the people who live nearby and may be affected by it. 

Remedying Breaches of Planning Control

It is important to remember that the carrying out of development without planning permission is not a criminal offence (other than for specific cases such as unauthorised works to listed buildings or to protected trees). 

Generally, the enforcement powers available to a local authority are remedial, that is to restore the situation to that as it was before the breach of planning control occurred.  These remedial powers allow us to serve a statutory notice requiring steps to be taken in a specified time to remedy the breach.  Failure to meet the requirements of a statutory notice can lead to court action, fines, or even imprisonment.

However if the landowner or developer will not co-operate, or if a retrospective application is refused, we may have to consider more formal action. 

Statutory Action to Remedy Breaches of Planning Control

The various forms of formal action open to the planning authority are set out below:

Retrospective Planning Applications – where a person in breach of planning control, having already carried out development that requires planning permission, seeks to retain the development, or activity, through the submission of a retrospective planning application.  The purpose of a retrospective application is to regularise the development and remedy the breach by obtaining planning permission. 

Planning Contravention Notice - this is served where it appears that there may be a breach of planning control and the planning authority require accurate information about activities on the land and the recipient's interest in the land.  It does not rectify the breach, but places legal responsibility on the recipient to provide information to us, so that we can make an informed decision about the development.

Breach of Condition Notice - this is served when there is a failure to comply with any condition or limitation imposed on a grant of planning permission.  There is no right of appeal against the notice.  Failure to comply can result in prosecution or an application for an injunction.

Injunction - the planning authority can seek a court injunction to restrain any actual or expected breach of planning control.

Enforcement Notice – this is served on everyone with an interest in land where a breach of planning control occurs.  It specifies the nature of the breach, the steps necessary to remedy the breach and the timescale within which action must be taken.  If not complied with, the planning authority may prosecute in the courts.  Other remedies include default action (e.g. removal by the Court of an unauthorised building) or an injunction.  There are rights of appeal against enforcement notices, which can considerably prolong the process.

Temporary Stop Notices – Where urgent action to restrain a breach of planning control is necessary, the planning authority can serve a Temporary Stop Notice.  This differs from a normal stop notice in that it requires an accompanying enforcement notice.  Its effect is immediate (a normal stop notice usually has a short notice period before it takes effect) and it lasts for up to 28 days.

Certificate of Lawful Use – a landowner or developer apparently in breach of planning control may seek a CLU to give immunity from enforcement.  In doing so, it must be demonstrated, with accompanying evidence that any building has been on the site for over four years or use of the land has been carried out for over 10 years.  Only factual evidence, as to whether the development is permitted (or has been carried out for the relevant time period) can be considered, the planning merits of a case can not be taken into account.

It is again a matter of discretion for the local planning authority as to which, if any, of these statutory actions it wishes to use to remedy a breach of planning control.

Appealing a Notice

Failure to comply with any notice issued by the Local Planning Authority becomes a criminal offence and could result in prosecution proceedings. In this instance, if convicted a maximum fine of £20,000 is possible.

If formal action is taken, there are rights of appeal against the notice to the Secretary of State or the Magistrates Court, depending on the type of notice served.

The appeal process can prolong matters for months on end which can be extremely frustrating for both the planning authority and local people affected by the breach.


Please note that enforcement procedures should not be used to settle disputes between neighbours or other parties.  When a supposed breach is reported to us, which following investigation is merely the result of a personal dispute and not a breach of planning, it is a waste of our resources and time.