Reporting a breach
Some residents feel that it is incumbent upon them to advise the Council of each and every possible breach of planning control and demand that its officers take action to "enforce".
The Council and its officers have duties to all of our residents, not merely those who shout the loudest. Resources are limited and must be shared across the borough, with priority being given to the issues that officers, in their professional opinion, consider to be the most important.
Whilst we are grateful for any "tip-offs" that we receive, we would ask that all of our residents please bear in mind the following:
- Enforcement powers are discretionary. Before taking enforcement action, we (i.e. planning officers in conjunction with legal officers) must be satisfied that such action is the right thing to do (that it is "expedient").
- Government guidance does not say that councils should take action against all unauthorised development, rather a council should take action where serious harm to local public amenity is being caused;
- A necessary corollory of the above is that like breaches are not necessarily treated alike. Whilst the Council's officers will try to be proportionate in their dealings with breachers, a high fence in one garden might have a more harmful affect on residential amenity, or highway safety, than that in another. Our officers must consider these factors when deciding what, if any, action to take.
- Public interest and residential amenity does not equate to the residential amenity or interests of one member of the public, i.e. just because it "affects" you (or even you and your neighbours), does not necessarily mean it affects residential amenity, or that there will be a public interest in taking action. An officer's assessment will depend on many factors, including the type and extent of the harm caused and the nature of the area etc.;
- The Government says that councils should try informal methods of resolving the matter before considering the use of legal powers. Where we can, the Council's officer will explore this. As a consequence:
- action may not be immediate; and
- compliance might be quicker in some cases than in others.
How to report an alleged breach
The Council's officers will consider all breaches of planning control of which they are made aware. In order to do so our officers need certain key information about the breach. Pre-requisites are the full address of the site and full details of the alleged breach.
If you wish to report a breach please use the complaints form. The more information you are able to provide, the easier it will be for us to deal with your complaint.
If you want to continue to be involved you must also please include a consent form. Further information on why we ask you to complete a consent form in these circumstances, and on how we will use your information, is set out below
Please send completed forms by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to Planning Enforcement, Legal Department, Ribble Valley Borough Council, Council Offices, Church Walk, Clitheroe, BB7 2RA.
You may wish to report a breach anonymously. Anonymous complaints can be the result of private grievance or competitor based: there may be no basis in planning terms in the complaint. Our officers therefore have to be cautious in dealing with anonymous complaints.
Investigation into anonymous complaints can be difficult to follow up if further information about an alleged breach of control cannot be obtained from an unknown complainant.
For these reasons anonymous complaints will only be investigated where the Council's officers have sufficient information. In such cases the decision whether to investigate will be made on the merits of the case.
Private disputes between neighbours and boundary disputes etc where there has been no breach of planning control will not be pursued.
There will however, be cases where the breach of planning control brought to our attention anonymously is causing demonstrable harm. In these cases, appropriate action will be taken.
If you wish to make an anonymous complaint, please download and complete the complaints form. Please write ANONYMOUS in the personal details section. Please be aware that your involvement will end when you send us the complaints form.
Complaints from a named "complainant"
Alternatively, you may wish to provide your name and details.
If you do provide contact details, please read the information below regarding how we will treat the information you provide to us.
This is not intended to "put off" people who wish to alert the Council to possible breaches; rather it is intended to make such people aware that the Council cannot guarantee that information provided to it will not have to be disclosed to the alleged breacher at some point in the proceedings.
Please download and complete the complaints form and, where you wish to continue to be involved, the consent form, and either email it/them to email@example.com or post it/them to Planning Enforcement, Legal Department, Council Offices, Church Walk, CLITHEROE, BB7 2RA.
How we will treat your information if you provide your name and address
We are grateful when people spend time alerting us of possible breaches.
However, as a public authority the Council is obliged to comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act in respect of any information it holds.
Your initial contact to us will be treated as implicitly confidential (unless you advise us in writing that you are happy for it to be disclosed). Should we receive a request for this information from someone else (e.g. from alleged breacher, or from any other member of the public), we will advise you of this request, liaise with you, and will, in so far as the law allows us to, respect your wishes in terms of whether or not we disclose such information, i.e. if you do not want your personal details to be disclosed we will try to ensure that they are not disclosed.
Unless you advise us to the contrary, we will assume that you are happy for your involvement in the matter to end with this first contact.
If you do wish to continue to be involved in this matter, we would ask that you please also sign and return a consent form. If we do not receive this form back, we will assume that you are happy to leave the matter in the hands of our officers from this point onwards.
If you either return the form and/or continue to send correspondence to, or telephone, the Council after your initial contact, please be aware of the following:
- In some cases our investigations may lead to criminal proceedings. As a result criminal procedure disclosure obligations may apply to the Council in respect of the documents it holds. If correspondence between you and the Council exists which may prejudice the defendant's case, this might have to be disclosed.
- Third parties (including the Property owner/breacher) might ask to see such correspondence before the case gets to Court. The Council would then have to make an assessment as to whether these documents should be disclosed pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information 2000.
- We will endeavour to treat complainants and their information fairly. However, in some cases, when we contact the alleged "breacher", it becomes clear that a neighbour dispute exists between "complainer" and "breacher". In some cases it will be obvious to the "breacher" who the "complainer" is. Officers will be mindful that enforcement action must not be used in an attempt to settle neighbour disputes in such cases. Although the Council will (up to a point) try to respect your wishes in terms of confidentiality, it must also bear in mind the competing rights of the person about whom you have complained (e.g. their right to a fair hearing).