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Planning Enforcement

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2006

Today I have published the outcome of the “Review of Planning Enforcement” that has been carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government. There was a high level of response to the review—around 500 of those consulted sent in replies and recommendations to our questions about enforcement—whether it was working, and what might be done to improve it.

There was strong agreement amongst consultees that the current statutory framework for enforcement remains fit for its purpose. There was no need to introduce stronger provisions, or to make unauthorised development a criminal offence, and enforcement should remain at the discretion of local authorities,

The introduction of temporary stop notices was an early outcome of the Review of Planning Enforcement. It is now over eighteen months since we gave local planning authorities the power to issue a temporary stop notice to require the immediate cessation of a breach of planning control for a period of 28 days. This has proved a popular enforcement tool for local planning authorities. Over 300 were used in 2005-06 to stop unauthorised development, protect the environment and to speed up the process of enforcement.

Temporary stop notices have proven a welcome and helpful measure in speeding up the enforcement process. They have been used successfully to stop a wide variety of unauthorised development, including: damage to listed buildings, trees, wildlife sites; unauthorised landfill, quarrying, tipping, processing and storage of waste, clay extraction; building new houses, flats, garages, barns; Gypsy sites; access roads and engineering and building works.

The review has, however, highlighted that enforcement does not have a high profile in authorities and that there is a lack of resources and trained staff working in this area. In taking forward the recommendations of the review, therefore, our focus is on how we can encourage and support proactive approaches to enforcement in planning. Enforcing planning activity, whether through reaction to complaints about breaches, proactive monitoring, or taking measures that prevent the necessity of repeated interventions, helps to create a quality, fully rounded planning service which in turn delivers sustainable outcomes. I want all authorities to regard enforcement as an essential element in their service.

To that end, we are looking at working with the Planning Advisory Service and the National Association of Planning Enforcement to provide opportunities and events that promote the importance of enforcement and provide workshops and training around some of the key elements. We will be encouraging authorities to share ideas at these events, with the aim of producing a benchmark of good practice, and some ‘golden rules’ of enforcement. And we are working, through our culture change programme, on identifying training and career structures for staff working in enforcement, and raising its profile in authorities.

We have also accepted recommendations in the review to look at some longer term changes. Over the next year we will be updating Circular 10/97 and the Enforcement Good Practice Guide.

There are also some areas where we will commission further work, following helpful comments from those we consulted. In particular, we will work with the LGA to see whether there is scope for extending planning fees to cover aspects of enforcement.

Publication of this review is only the first step in an ongoing process of evaluation and change that is designed to ensure that authorities have the means at their disposal to carry out effective and appropriate enforcement, and maintain the integrity of their planning functions.

A summary of the recommendations has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.