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Reporting unauthorised development

Anyone who believes there has been a breach of planning control can make a complaint. The identity of people who complain is protected and remains confidential. It may be necessary to ask witnesses to give evidence for the council should a matter be taken to court, however. Officers can explain what would be involved if anyone is worried about this.

To treat a complaint as genuine and start an investigation, the complainant will be asked to provide his or her name and contact details.

As much detail as possible of the alleged breach of control will also be needed. You may be asked to make notes of what you have witnessed and keep a log of relevant activities. The council will have to provide evidence if it is to be successful in preventing long term harm.

Make a planning enforcement complaint online.

What will the council do?

When a complaint is received, it will:

  • keep a register of all telephone and written complaints
  • acknowledge letters within 3 working days
  • carry out a site visit within 28 working days
  • notify all complainants of the final outcome.

What happens next?

The council can only take action where unauthorised activity is considered to cause harm. Harm, in planning terms, might be detriment to visual or residential amenities, highway safety or development that is contrary to the adopted planning policies for the area set out in the Medway Local Plan.

Harm would not normally include loss of value to a neighbouring property, competition for another business, loss of an individual’s view or trespass on someone else’s land. If there is no harm, a retrospective planning application may be requested simply to regularise the matter.

A future purchaser of the property will wish to ensure that all development is lawful. The law allows for an application to be made after development has been started and the council must consider any application that is properly submitted.

Once the alleged breach has been investigated and harm has been established, the council must decide on the appropriate action. There is a number of actions available and the council must ensure that any action taken is proportionate to the harm caused by the unauthorised development.

In some instances an application for planning permission may be requested so that the extent of the development can be controlled through conditions to limit the amount of harm.

Where development has been carried out without planning permission and is considered harmful, the council can serve an Enforcement Notice requiring the harm to be rectified, possibly by removing the unauthorised work or ceasing the unauthorised use. An Enforcement Notice will allow time for this to happen.

If the developer or owner fails to comply with a valid Enforcement Notice, they can be prosecuted. However, they also have a right of appeal and that may delay the eventual outcome. Where there is serious harm, the council also has the power to serve a Stop Notice, which has a more immediate effect in seeking to prevent further harm.

Where development has planning permission but there is a condition or conditions that are not being complied with, the council can serve a Breach of Condition Notice. There is no right of appeal against this kind of notice.

How long will it take?

Dealing with enforcement cases can be a lengthy and complex process. Different matters vary in complexity and the most complex can take months or even years to resolve if there are appeals against the council’s actions.

What if I am not satisfied?

If, after discussing the matter with the officer dealing with the case, you are not satisfied with the way the council has dealt with it, you may wish to use the council’s formal complaints procedure.

What if someone complains about you?

If you are contacted about an alleged breach of planning control, you are entitled to know what the allegation is but not who made the complaint (identities are protected by law). You will have the opportunity to explain your side of the case.

If you are not involved, no action will be taken against you. If you are involved, the officer will explain the details and what needs to be done to put matters right. In some circumstances, the council may serve a Planning Contravention Notice.

This will require you to provide information about the alleged unauthorised development. This is intended to establish the facts so that the council can decide whether there has been a breach and what action, if any, to take. The implications for not responding to this Notice will be explained.

Your co-operation will be sought to correct the breach. This may involve removing or modifying any work or ceasing unauthorised activities. Clearly it will depend on the nature of the breach and the extent of any harm. A reasonable period of time will be allowed for you to do what is needed.

In some circumstances, you may be invited to submit a retrospective planning application if it is considered that permission may be granted, albeit subject to conditions or some modification.

 If an Enforcement Notice is issued, it will give precise details of the breach, reasons for the action, the steps required to put matters right and the time you have to do this. You will have a right to appeal against this notice and the procedure for this will be explained.

Further advice and guidance on planning enforcement can be obtained from:

Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU
Phone: 0207 944 4400

Details of legislation

The legislation on the enforcement of planning control is largely contained in Part VII of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended).

Government advice and policy is set out in: