This article previously appeared in the November 2015 NAPE Newsletter
As enforcement officers we have all used the term ‘expediency’ when assessing whether or not to take formal action against a breach of planning control. The term expediency is used within Section 172(1) of the Act which sets out that a local planning authority may issue an enforcement notice where it appears to them
(a) that there has been a breach of planning control; and
(b) that it is expedient to issue the notice, having regard to the provisions of the development plan and to any other material considerations.
So what does ‘expedient’ actually mean? Are you able to explain the term without looking it up? No, me neither! Once you have looked up what it means, continue reading…..
The matter of expediency has recently come into focus through Birmingham MP Steve McCabe who has brought forward to the House of Commons the Protection of Family Homes (Enforcement & Permitted Development) Bill. The first reading of the Bill, which has cross party support, can be seen here. The main aims of this Bill will:-
Require the DCLG to produce clearer guidance for Planning Authorities on when enforcement action should be taken and local authorities will need to produce an enforcement plan.
Introduce a right of appeal when a planning authority decides it is not ‘expedient’ to take enforcement action
The Bill will also set out the requirement for extensions built under permitted development to be independently checked against building regulations to ensure they are safe to live in
Introduce new powers for planning authorities to fine developers who breach planning law as a deterrent when enforcement action is not considered ‘expedient’.
Whilst any debate around the topic of planning enforcement is always welcome, I am not convinced that the content of the Bill will in any way aid enforcement officers in their day to day work, in fact it may even prove to be a hindrance, especially with the proposed right to appeal a decision not to take action. I am also slightly puzzled as to how a local authority would fine a developer when it is not considered expedient to take enforcement action given that it a well-established principle that enforcement action should be remedial rather than punitive.
With that in mind the government does seem to now be taking a harder line on planning enforcement with the introduction of the planning enforcement fund for planning injunctions and the recently announced £5m pot to tackle the continuing problem of beds in sheds.
The second reading of the Bill is scheduled for 26th January 2016. It will be interesting to see how these proposals progress and whether this is the beginning of a shift in policy towards enforcement action being punitive rather than just remedial in certain cases.