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Stages of investigation

Stage 1 – acknowledgement

We prioritise each complaint we receive, and send an acknowledgement within 3 working days.

Stage 2 – initial desktop investigation

The first stage of investigation is called a 'desktop' investigation. For this, we will:

  • check the planning, compliance and building control history of the site, including conditions of planning permission and Section 106 obligations
  • check site constraints
  • identify the main planning policy considerations relevant to the complaint
  • check relevant legislation – whether the alleged breach constitutes "development", or could be "permitted development", and what needs to be checked and measured on site

If it's not clear to us how planning control may have been breached, we may contact the person who made the complaint and ask for more information.

If we believe the complaint is not a planning matter, no action will be taken and the case will be closed. Non-planning matters include:

  • disputes over land ownership and boundaries
  • restrictive covenants and legal agreements
  • moral and ethical concerns
  • competition and private interests

Details of non-planning complaints will be passed to other agencies, where relevant.

Stage 3 – initial site visit

Our Planning Enforcement Officers will visit the site of the alleged breach. This involves:

  • a considerate and sensitive approach, recognising there may be no breach or that the breach is unintentional
  • Enforcement Officers identifying themselves when on site and explaining the reason for their visit – if they believe an offence has been committed, they will caution the suspected offenders in line with Sections 66 and 67 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • finding out the identities of the owner, occupier and persons responsible for the activity or development taking place
  • recording names and addresses of all persons who have an ownership or tenancy interest
  • taking and recording measurements
  • taking photographs
  • recording a brief description of the site, including the alleged unauthorised development
  • finding out which neighbouring properties may be affected by the activity or development

If a breach of control has clearly taken place then, depending on the nature of the breach, we will immediately contact the owner, occupier or person responsible and advise them to stop work until the matter is resolved. They will be advised that any further work carried out will be entirely at their own risk and may be subject to enforcement action.

Stage 4 – action after the initial site visit

Following their initial site visit, our Planning Enforcement Officers will contact the owner, occupier or person responsible for the alleged unauthorised development, to either:

  • advise them of our intended action or options available to resolve the matter
  • ask for more further information to help us find out whether a breach has occurred

We will write to the complainant, telling them of the initial findings and any proposed action.

The complainant should be prepared to tell the investigating officer:

  • what harm is being caused to them by unauthorised works or change of use of the land
  • what harm is being caused by any of the activities that are being carried out

With this information, our the investigating officer can decide the best time to visit the site so the reported breach of planning control can be confirmed or witnessed.

Stage 5 – further investigation

Depending upon the outcome of Stage 4, Planning Enforcement Officers may have to:

  • monitor activity on site to collect more information or evidence about the alleged breach
  • carry out covert surveillance, strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
  • serve a Planning Contravention Notice or a requisition for information under Section 330 of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 or Section 16 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 – the recipient must then provide information relating to the alleged breach and anyone who has an interest in the site within 21 days
  • carry out a Land Registry search to find out who owns the land
  • search council tax and business rates databases to find the responsible person or company
  • carry out a Companies House search to find out the company's directors
  • consult the ward councillors, neighbours and external agencies, if appropriate

Stage 6: action following investigation

After investigations have been completed, the council we will take no further action if:

  • activities, building or operational works constitute "permitted development" or are lawful
  • there has been a very minor breach and formal action would not be justified

If we find there has been a material breach of planning control then we will either

  • invite a planning application to regularise the development – with appropriate conditions
  • begin formal enforcement action

We will inform the complainant of our decision