The Executive Member for Planning and Growth submitted a report that set out the Council’s approach to Planning Enforcement following adoption and implementation of a new Planning Enforcement Plan in March 2021. She said that concern had been expressed about the lack of planning enforcement action being taken by the council.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that this report outlined the council’s current approach to planning enforcement following the adoption of the planning enforcement plan in March 2021 and provided a review of the effectiveness of the measures detailed in the plan.
Members were advised that the level of enforcement complaints remained high. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that the triage system was working effectively and had enabled Officer time to be directed based on the reports that warranted investigation. She said that a majority of enforcement investigations did not result in any further action being taken by the council as there had been no breach of planning control found or planning permission would have been granted if an application had been made or the breach was not sufficiently harmful to justify enforcement action.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that it was considered that the council’s current approach to planning enforcement was in line with central government guidance. She said that it was not appropriate to establish enforcement targets based on the completion of investigations.
Councillor Rutland-Barsby asked if anonymous reporting could be investigated or re-introduced as it was important that Members should be able to report enforcement action if any residents felt intimidated.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained that section four of the planning enforcement plan sets out the specific information that was required for the planning enforcement triage process. She said that the name, address and contact number were required and were treated in the strictest confidence and were not made known to any other party.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained that Officers might need to visit a property to understand the extent of any harm arising. The Council might need the reporting party to provide a statement or appear in court. If a reporting party was particularly concerned, then reports could be made via their ward or town/parish councillor.
Councillor Kemp asked about the process for informing reporting parties on the progress of the case. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that paragraph 10.4 of the enforcement plan sets out what the reporting parties can expect following reporting an alleged planning breach. She said that the reporting party would be kept informed of any significant occurrence and reporting parties were advised that they can contact the case officer at any time.
Councillor Goldspink asked how the two types of enforcement process were categorised. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that both types of breach were reported and triaged as set out in the planning enforcement plan. She said that all reports were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and in many cases breaches in planning control were resolved without the need to issue a formal notice.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that if formal action was warranted an enforcement notice would be served on a building without planning permission and a breach of condition would be used to address a breach of a condition on a planning condition. She said that section seven of the enforcement plan provided more detail on the different types of enforcement action.
Councillor Devonshire asked that if enforcement levels continued to increase, what was being done to ensure that the proper resources were in place to address this. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that his matter would need to be raised and discussed corporately as part of the council’s corporate plan. She said that there was a public enforcement register that recorded all the enforcement notices that had been served.
Councillor Ward-Booth asked the Executive Member for Planning and Growth to comment on whether she was satisfied that the enforcement team had the resources they needed to follow up what could be significant breaches of planning conditions and planning permissions. He asked for some clarity as to when an enforcement notice was appropriate and was there a time limit as residents were concerned about a perceived lack of action.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that she was aware that were complex issues that took a long time to resolve and an enforcement notice did not necessarily provide an automatic resolution to a problem and the best way forward initially was a collaborative approach. She explained that it was for Members to decide if they felt that enforcement was an area of priority spend.
The Head of Planning and Building Control said that Officers followed government guidance to resolve matters informally and this did not mean that enforcement action was not taking place. She said that all reports were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and Officers followed every avenue open to them before taking formal action and external legal advice was often sought.
Councillor Ward-Booth said that he was aware of concerns from residents in respect of the need for a greater focus on robust action in respect of major projects in the district. The Service Manager (Development Management and Enforcement) said that the council had recently employed a Compliance Officer to deal with issues of non-compliance and he would be routinely visiting large development sites.
Councillor Snowdon said that the council was not routinely communicating with residents. He asked that the Executive Member for Planning and Growth to liaise with Officers in respect of how communication with residents and Members could be improved.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth acknowledged that communication could be improved. Councillor Snowdon sought and was given clarification as to the level of scrutiny undertaken in terms of when a decision was taken to negotiate or take formal action.
Councillor Curtis said that due to the significant number of enforcement cases the matter of boosting capacity was something that should be a made a top priority.
Councillor Page asked when and how the enforcement strategy would be reviewed and by whom. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth explained that this was being reviewed by the Committee this evening.
The Head of Planning and Building Control said that Members were focussing on the Enforcement Plan that had been agreed in March 2021 after being considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive. She said that if there were concerns this evening it was for Members to provide any observations to the Executive Member and it was for Members to consider when the next review should take place. Members were advised that there would be a council review of enforcement policy coming up.
Councillor Devonshire said that there were concerns and he suggested that more resources be allocated to planning enforcement. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that she would have to discuss this matter with the Head of Planning and Building Control.
Councillor Snowdon asked that it was explicitly reported back that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee was concerned over communications with residents about enforcement actions and also the point that had been raised in terms of whether more could be done with more resources.
Councillor Snowdon proposed and Councillor Rutland-Barsby seconded, a motion that the comments and feedback of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in respect of the council’s approach to planning enforcement be passed onto the Executive.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that the comments and feedback of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in respect of the council’s approach to planning enforcement be passed onto the Executive.