There is nothing that gets people’s backs up more than somebody who has built without planning permission. It’s also probably one of the most frequently expressed frustrations at Planning Committee meetings. I’m not talking about the case of Mr Fidler, who built an entire castle in the Surrey Green Belt without planning permission! Council’s taking action against those that have infringed planning law will usually provide the developer with an invitation to submit a retrospective planning application.
Such retrospective applications have however, until recently, always been assessed on the planning merits of the scheme, in the same way as other planning applications. However in the Autumn of 2015, in his first letter to Chief Planning Officers following the May General Election, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Chief Planner Steve Quartermain set out revisions to national planning policy that would make intentional unauthorised development a material consideration. The note, which states the policy came into effect from 1st September, made explicit reference to the “expensive and time-consuming enforcement action” that unlawful development often prompts.
We have been analysing the reaction of many commentators who have questioned the effectiveness of these changes. Rather than reducing the workload of enforcement teams, many feel they will actually see an increase. If the Chief Planner’s correspondence makes Council’s and Inspector’s more confident about refusing retrospective applications for unauthorised development, there will surely be more refusals to enforce! Yet, with enforcement teams already struggling to manage their existing workload, and with a continued reduction in staffing numbers, their ability to handle more cases is doubtful.
So, bound to fail if not properly resourced?
It is too early to say how this will work in practice; presumably it will only be a justification for refusing a scheme where there has actually been harm arising as a result of the development, which cannot be mitigated, rather than having an impact on all retrospective applications?In which case, we see little change from the status quo!
..and then there is the question of intention? It could prove problematic in proving someone intentionally and not inadvertently carried out development unless, say, they continued to operate a use after being warned by the Local Planning Authority that they required permission.
The impact of this new policy is yet to be seen. What is clear however is the steps taken by the Government in recent years will certainly make the risk of carrying out development without planning permission less attractive!To this extent, it may, as Minister’s believehave a preventative effect. We may start seeing applications that are otherwise acceptable and in compliance with the development plan being refused, simply because they were commenced without in breach without first obtaining the necessary consent?
The mere threat of enforcement action can lead to a great deal of stress and worry. At times like this it’s best to seek the right professional advice. As Chartered Town Planners, we can alleviate the worry by carefully guiding you through your options and have a track record in liaising with local authorities in such circumstances.