Information on how to complain about suspected breaches of planning law and the action we will take.

Breaches of planning control

Any work that should have planning permission, but goes ahead without it, may be a breach of planning control.

This can include:

  • Work being carried out without planning permission
  • An unauthorised change in the use of a building
  • Non-compliance with any conditions of a planning permission
  • Work carried out that is different to the plans we approved as part of the planning permission

The following are examples of activities that are not breaches of planning control. In these cases, we cannot take action:

  • Vehicles parked on the road or on grass verges (unless this is associated with the unauthorised use of a property)
  • Running a small business from home
  • Clearing land of undergrowth, bushes or trees (as long as they are not covered by a Tree Preservation Order)
  • Disputes about boundaries or rights of way
  • Disputes about covenants - these are private matters that fall outside of our planning powers

Investigating complaints

We see enforcement action as a crucial part of the planning system.

We take all possible breaches of planning control seriously and investigate them as quickly as possible.

Because of limited resources, the speed at which we respond to any enquiry or complaint will depend on the following:

  • If there is any risk or danger to the public
  • The effect on individuals
  • The effect on local amenities
  • Any other relevant factors

You can find out more about our approach in our Local Enforcement Plan.

Confidentiality about your complaint

If you make an enquiry or a complaint, we understand that you may want us to treat it in confidence and we will respect that wherever possible.

Sometimes the success of an enforcement may be limited if we cannot use a complainant's evidence publicly - for example if there is an appeal against an enforcement notice to the Secretary of State, or a prosecution through the courts.

Before we take action

We have to consider two important issues before we can recommend a course of action:

  • We must be satisfied there is evidence of a breach of planning control
  • If there is a breach, we need to consider if it is causing serious harm

The important point to understand is that it is not an offence to start building work or make a change of use without planning permission. Just because something does not have planning permission does not always mean that we will take action to stop it.

Our planning enforcement powers

We have a wide range of powers and the action we take will depend on the nature of the case.

Our priority is to protect amenities, safeguard the built environment and uphold local planning policy in the speediest and most effective way.

The government advises local councils to resort to enforcement action only where it is plainly necessary and where there is obvious harm or nuisance.

We have published a Local Enforcement Plan that sets out in more detail the approach we will follow in considering whether or not to take planning enforcement action.

Factors that can delay action

Complainants are sometimes concerned about unauthorised development going on for some time.

However, it can be difficult to predict how long it will take to deal with a complaint because we cannot always anticipate how a case will develop.

The factors that can delay progress include:

  • The availability of relevant and satisfactory evidence
  • Negotiations to try to deal with a case without resorting to formal action
  • The submission of a retrospective planning application
  • An appeal against a formal notice

Time limits for enforcement action

We cannot take action against operational development that is more than four years old, or against a change of use that took place more than ten years ago.

Types of enforcement action we can take

We use the following notices for breaches of planning control:

Planning contravention notice

We can normally use this at an early stage in the investigation. The person, on whom we serve the notice, has to provide details of any operations or works carried out and details of anyone with a legal interest in the site.

This will not necessarily stop the breach but gives us more information to help us decide what to do.

Breach of condition notice

This deals with breaches of the conditions of a planning permission that we have already granted.

Enforcement notice

We use this to deal with unauthorised development where there is clear evidence of a harmful breach of planning control. There are similar notices and powers to deal with listed buildings and advertisements.

There is a right of appeal against an enforcement notice. Where an appeal is made, it suspends the terms of the notice until the Secretary of State reaches a decision.

Stop notice

We use this in very urgent or serious cases where the unauthorised work has to stop immediately for public safety or similar issues.

If we serve it incorrectly, we could be open to claims for compensation, so we have to be careful with its use.


We only use these in extremely urgent or important cases. We must apply to the courts for an injunction and it is up to the courts to agree to any injunction proceedings.

How you can help with planning enforcement

We rely on your help for the success of planning enforcement.

Your knowledge can improve the information we hold at all stages in the enforcement process. In some cases, where monitoring over time is needed, we may also seek your help to provide information.

When you make a complaint or enquiry, it is helpful to have as much relevant information as possible. In particular, we need the address or location of the property concerned and full details of the alleged breach, with dates and times, if relevant.

If there is an appeal against an enforcement notice, we will notify anyone who informed us of the matter. We will also ask if they want to submit any more information, or appear at an inquiry to support our case.

The strength of local support can be crucial to any success.

Please note that at this stage, any representations you make will become publicly available. These will be available for public inspection, including by the person making the appeal and their legal representatives.

Anonymous complaints about suspected breaches of planning law

We do not normally investigate anonymous enquiries or complaints. This is because we must be able to show that we had good cause to enter someone else's land or investigate their activities.

We will try to keep you informed at all relevant stages of our investigation.

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