When an authority becomes aware of a breach of planning control, they will send out an officer, usually referred to as an enforcement officer to investigate it. They will need to find out a number of things:
- What exactly has happened? They need to find out the full facts of the case.
- Whether what has happened requires planning permission. If what has happened does not require planning permission, no action can be taken under planning legislation, but action might be taken under other powers, e.g. if an activity is causing a lot of noise, environmental health powers might be used against the noise.
- When the breach occurred. There are time limits on taking enforcement action against breaches of planning control. For building and other operations and for the use of a property or part of one as a single dwelling, the limit is 4 years. For all other breaches it is 10 years. The enforcement officer will need to be sure the breach of planning control is not out-of-time.
- Who has carried out the breach of planning control? An enforcement notice has to be served on the owners and occupiers of land and anybody else with an interest in it, e.g. a bank or building society which has a mortgage. The authority will usually carry out a Land Registry search before issuing an enforcement notice and it can serve “requisitions” on owners, occupiers, etc, i.e. written requests for information which the person receiving them must by law complete, asking about details of land ownership and possibly other matters. This information is required through the service of Planning Contravention Notices and/or Section 330 Notices. At this stage, however, the enforcement officer will try to identify the relevant parties so they can be contacted in future.
If after investigation it is found there is a breach of planning control which warrants action, the officer will then prepare a report setting out the facts of the case and what action is appropriate, normally whether or not to serve an enforcement notice.