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Planning enforcement

For detailed guidance on all aspects of the enforcement process in West Northamptonshire, please see the Local Enforcement Plan:

If you are thinking of contacting us about a breach of planning control, please read this short guide:

Please read this short guide if a planning enforcement officer has visited your property and you would like to know what you can expect from the process:

Before reporting a breach of planning control, please:

  • Check if planning permission is needed for the work.
    Find out more about when planning permission is required using the Planning Portal Interactive House
  • Check if planning permission has been granted for the work
    Use the online planning application search. Please note, if the alleged breach involves a business operating from a residential property or other change of use, please complete the observation log for a 7-day period before submitting your complaint
  • Check the information provided to us is accurate and a true representation of the facts.
    In certain circumstances, our enquiries may lead to a criminal investigation. Therefore, we cannot accept anonymous complaints about suspected breaches

Report a breach of planning control:

What happens after you report something to us

We will usually acknowledge reports within 3 working days and we will inform you of the case officer dealing with the matter.

An initial investigation will normally be carried out within 10 working days. If a breach has occurred, the person responsible may be asked to put it right or make a planning application. If this approach fails, we can then consider whether it is expedient to take more formal action.

We take breaches of planning regulations very seriously and are committed to bringing unauthorised development under control where it is considered necessary, expedient and proportionate to do so.

Planning enforcement is the process by which we investigate and resolve alleged breaches of planning control.

A breach of planning control is defined by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as “the carrying out of development without the required planning permission or failing to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted”.

Examples of some breaches of planning control are:

  • Erection(s) of new buildings and extensions to existing buildings without the necessary planning permission
  • Changing the use of land or buildings without the necessary planning permission
  • Where planning permission has been granted but the approved plans and/or the conditions attached to the approval have not been followed properly
  • Advertisements erected without the necessary permission
  • Protected trees being removed or lopped without the necessary permission
  • The carrying out of works to a listed building, both internal and external, without the necessary permission
  • Unauthorised demolition of certain buildings within a conservation area
  • Where land is in a condition which adversely affects the amenity of the area

The following are private issues we cannot investigate but which a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help you with:

  • Land ownership and boundary disputes
  • Party Wall Act issues
  • Restrictive covenants placed on your property when it was built
  • Neighbour disputes

The Health and Safety Executive outlines the duties of a householder when having construction work carried out to their homes. A breach of these would not necessarily be a breach of planning control but may need reporting to the Health and Safety Executive.

We will make every effort, within the legal obligations imposed on us by the Freedom of Information legislation, to ensure that your identity is not disclosed.

However, if the matter you report to us is one of the very small percentage that require legal action to be taken, it is possible that you will be asked to provide written or verbal evidence.

If we choose to take formal enforcement action, you may be requested to appear as a witness at any subsequent appeal hearing or court proceedings.

Please note: We cannot guarantee that the person responsible for the works will not presume that you are responsible for reporting the alleged breach. Although we will not reveal your details, the person responsible for the works you suspect are a breach (normally the landowner) will be made aware of the nature of your report.

For more information on how we handle your personal data, please see the Planning service privacy notice.

In most cases the enforcement officer will visit the site within 10 working days to obtain detailed factual information about the alleged breach and take photographs. Following the site visit, we will assess the alleged breach to determine how to proceed.

Is more information needed?

In some circumstances further information may be required in order to establish more details from the landowner. In these instances, we may have to serve a Planning Contravention Notice, a legal document requiring the owner or occupier to answer a range of questions within 21 days. This information will then be used to determine whether or not a breach of planning control has occurred.

Has a breach of planning control taken place?

If a breach has not taken place, the case will be closed and no action will be taken. Enforcement action cannot be taken if the works or change of use do not require planning permission.

If a breach has taken place, depending on the severity of the breach and the individual circumstances, different courses of action may be taken.

Sometimes work is carried out mistakenly without the required planning permission or sometimes people fail to keep to the planning permission they have been given. Usually, the owners of the property/land/premises will be given an opportunity to put the situation right and will be advised in writing of the steps required to do this.

If development is considered acceptable in planning terms, the landowner may be given an opportunity to submit a retrospective planning application. If the development is unacceptable and therefore unlikely to get planning permission, the landowner will be advised of this and told to stop unauthorised work or cease the unauthorised use until the matter is resolved.

Most unauthorised developments are initially a breach of planning control. However, in the case of the display of unauthorised advertisements, works to protected trees and unauthorised works to listed buildings, these are a criminal offence for which the person(s) responsible may be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court.

In most cases we will attempt to resolve a breach of planning control through negotiation, giving landowners a reasonable opportunity to make amends.

Where negotiations have been tried and failed or negotiation is not an option, we then have to consider if formal action is appropriate.

Planning Enforcement is a discretionary power and as such formal action will only be taken when we can demonstrate the breach causes serious harm to public amenity and it is expedient to do so. What action is taken will be dependent on the seriousness of the harm.

It is important to note that not all breaches of planning control will result in formal action being taken. Because our enforcement powers are discretionary, the emphasis will be on attempting to negotiate a resolution in the first instance.

There is no right to appeal a decision (by us) to take no further action.

What is ‘harm’?

Significant harm that results from a breach in planning control could concern residential amenity or highway safety issues. Examples of significant harm could include noise nuisance, loss of daylight or privacy, or danger from increased traffic flows.

The following are not examples of harm, although it may be possible to address these by way of civil action:

  • Land ownership and boundary disputes
    (HM Land Registry Leicester Office – 0300 006 0411)
  • Loss of value to a neighbouring property
  • Competition to another business
  • Loss of an individual’s view or trespass

A formal Enforcement Notice will be served on the owner of the property along with any other party with a legal interest in the land or building in question. The Enforcement Notice will specify what action is required to remedy the problem and will give a period for compliance.

The recipient of the Enforcement Notice has a minimum of 28 days to appeal against the notice to the Planning Inspectorate. Where an appeal is lodged, we can take no further action until the appeal has been decided. It is not unusual for the appeal process to take several months.

We will always vigorously defend any appeal but if it is allowed (that is if the appellant wins), we can take no further action. If it is dismissed however, the Enforcement Notice will take effect, although the Inspector can amend its requirements, including the period for compliance.

It is a criminal offence not to comply with the notice. If the notice is not complied with we will consider prosecution. However, such action does require evidence to prove the offence is being committed by a named individual or company ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Collecting this evidence can sometimes be a lengthy and time-consuming exercise and in some cases pre-trial delays may be unavoidable.

Details of all enforcement notices that have been served since West Northamptonshire Council’s inception on 1 April 2021 can be found on our Enforcement Register.

For details of enforcement notices served before 1 April 2021 see:

  • Northampton area – The Northampton Legacy Enforcement Register (below) has details of enforcement notices served in Northampton prior to 1 April 2021. For more information email [email protected]
  • Daventry area - email [email protected]
  • South Northamptonshire area - South Northants Legacy Enforcement Register (below) has details of all enforcement notices served in South Northamptonshire from 2011 to 1 April 2021. For older enforcement notices please email [email protected]

Last updated 09 February 2024