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Planning authorities should act decisively when taking effective enforcement measures

Planning authorities must keep track of enforcement action, and follow through when they promise to act, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) says.

A recent report issued by the LGO highlights the impact failing to enforce planning breaches can have on people’s lives.  It shows the problems that can occur when councils do not take decisive enforcement action,  manage resources properly and do not keep neighbours up-to-date on progress.

The message comes after a man complained that London Borough of Hackney spent more than five years unsuccessfully trying to get his neighbour to remove an unauthorised extension.

Throughout this time, the neighbour failed to comply with orders made by the Crown Court, continued to build, and prevented council contractors from removing the unlawful extension, which neighbours describe as an ‘eyesore’.

The man’s neighbour started building work in May 2006 and the first enforcement noticed was served in March 2009.  The man bought his house in 2010, confident that the council would enforce the action.  However, the extension remains in place.

The extension imposes on the man’s privacy; a balcony overlooks his bedrooms and garden, and has affected his own plans to extend his property.

The man complained to the LGO about delay and the council not keeping him updated on their action. The LGO’s investigation found that time and again it has been left to the man to chase the council for an update on its actions and to find out what was happening.  The council failed to keep in touch even after it promised to improve communications.

The LGO’s investigation identified a backlog of 1,500 open enforcement cases within Hackney, some dating back to 2001.  The council has since allocated two officers to go through all historic open cases to decide what further action should be taken.

The council appointed specialist contractors in December 2015 which have now moved on site to remove the extension.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said:

“The public can only have trust that their local council will protect them and their local environment if those councils act swiftly and appropriately to maintain planning control.

“People may therefore feel justifiably aggrieved if their local council promises to take direct action against unlawful development, but then lets them down.

“I acknowledge this was a difficult situation for the council and recognise that they have improved their communication over the past six months.  I now hope the action the council is taking to clear its backlog of cases highlighted by my investigation will help to ensure this situation does not happen again.”

To remedy the injustice, the council should apologise to the man and provide him with ongoing updates on the progress of its direct action to remove the unauthorised development.

It should also complete the draft of its enforcement strategy and include reference in there to keeping in touch with those who report breaches of planning control.

The council should also introduce a procedure for cases where direct action is appropriate to remedy breaches of planning control and ensure this report is considered as part of the council’s future budgetary planning for its enforcement service.

The council should also pay the man £2,500 recognition of his injustice. This includes £500 for his uncertainty and time and trouble and £2,000 to reflect the continued impact of the unauthorised development. 

Article date: 07 June 2016