Reporting a breach
Some residents advise the Council of each and every possible breach of planning control and demand that we take action to "enforce".
We have duties to all of our residents. Resources are limited and must be shared across the borough, with priority being given to the issues that officers 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 must be satisfied that such action is the right thing to do
- 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
- Similar breaches are not always treated in the same way. For example 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
- The Government says that councils should try informal methods of resolving the matter before considering the use of legal powers. As a result:
- action may not be immediate; and
- compliance might be quicker in some cases than in others.
How to report an alleged breach
We will consider all breaches of planning control which we are made aware of. In order to do so our officers need certain key information about the breach including the full address of the site and full details of the alleged breach.
If you wish to report a breach please use the planning enforcement complaints form. The more information you are able to provide, the easier it will be for us to deal with your complaint.
You may wish to report a breach anonymously. Anonymous complaints can be the result of private grievance or competitor based and there may be no basis in planning terms in the complaint.
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 we 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 where there has been no breach of planning control will not be pursued.
If you wish to make an anonymous complaint, please download and complete the planning enforcement complaints form. Please write anonymous in the personal details section - 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.
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 we cannot guarantee that information provided will not be disclosed to the alleged breacher at some point in the proceedings.
How we will treat your information if you provide your name and address
As a public authority we are 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 confidential (unless you advise us in writing that you are happy for it to be disclosed). If 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 and will respect your wishes in terms of whether or not we disclose such information as much as we can within the Law. 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 otherwise, 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 planning enforcement consent form. If we do not receive this form, we will assume that you are happy to leave the matter in the hands of our officers from this point onwards.
If you return the form or continue to send correspondence 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 we may have to provide documents including correspondence between you and the Council to be used in the criminal case.
- 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 in relation to the Freedom of Information Act.
- We will endeavour to treat you and your 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 we will try to respect your wishes in terms of confidentiality, you must bear in mind the competing rights of the person about whom you have complained (e.g. their right to a fair hearing).
In some circumstances we may even ask you to give evidence at the Magistrates' Court or Inquiry.