A visit or letter from an enforcement officer from the local council is never welcome, but what should you do if you find yourself in that position?

Quite often the action is caused by a disgruntled neighbour or as a result of the council monitoring a planning application.

Enforcement action by a council is discretionary and they must act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.
What can the council do?

The council must contact the owner and any occupier of the site. They will write to the premises so it is important to keep the Land Registry records up to date.

A breach can often be addressed without formal enforcement action, either because there has been a genuine mistake easily rectified or that formal enforcement action may not be appropriate.

Often the council will invite a retrospective planning application and many issues are resolved this way. However, the council can decline to determine a retrospective planning application if an enforcement notice has already been issued.
What information will
the council require?

The council may send a planning contravention notice.

This is a formal request for more information.  It is an offence not to complete and return the notice within 21 days, or to provide false or misleading information. An enforcement notice can then be served which must set out clearly the breach together with what action the council requires to be taken and when or if activities are to be ceased. There is a right of appeal.

It is an offence to not comply with the enforcement notice, where there is no outstanding appeal, punishable by an unlimited fine.
Rights of entry

The council has powers to enter the land and carry out remedial steps, as a last resort. There are also rights of entry to investigate a breach of planning control, decide whether enforcement powers should be used and/or find out whether earlier enforcement action has been complied with.
Immunity from enforcement action

There is often much confusion about when a continuous breach is immune from enforcement.

υ Building works are immune from enforcement four years from the date the works were substantially completed.

υ Change of use to a single dwelling house is similarly four years.

υ Any other breach of planning control (other changes of use ) are 10 years.

Unless the works have been deliberately concealed then the council can go to the magistrates court for a planning enforcement order within six months of the council being aware they have sufficient evidence of the breach. The council can use a stop notice, or a breach of condition notice. In extreme cases the council can obtain an Injunction.
Urgent steps

It is vital to take urgent legal advice as soon as you hear from the council.  In very many cases issues can be resolved quickly.