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Redbridge Council proposes planning enforcement and direct action policy

Out-Law News | 12 Jun 2015 | 2:37 pm | 2 min. read

Redbridge Council has published a draft planning enforcement and direct action policy . 

A report prepared for a recent Council cabinet meeting said that the draft policy introduces a formal process for the council to use its discretionary power under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to take "physical action to resolve breaches itself where the requirements of an enforcement notice have not been complied with."

The National Planning Policy Framework encourages local authorities to adopt an enforcement plan to offer people better direction regarding the use of planning controls. The policy will "provide residents throughout the borough clear and transparent guidance upon the new approach to planning enforcement" according to the report. The document also includes a table listing various breaches and how the Council will prioritise these and changes to how the planning enforcement team will operate.

The basis of the revised process is to inform, negotiate and enforce. Once the Council has been made aware that a breach has occurred it will inform the responsible party that a planning control has been breached. The Council will then negotiate with the relevant party for a period of up to 28 days to resolve the issue. If the breach remains after that time the planning enforcement team will issue a notice and take direct action where appropriate.

As of 31 January Redbridge Council had 951 active cases, 471 were over 12 months old. The Council hopes that the proposed policy will help speed up the resolution of planning breaches and reduce the number of outstanding cases.

Direct action can be used alone or in conjunction with prosecution or injunction measures. The policy states that direct action will only be used when "officers consider this is either the most rapid or appropriate way in which to resolve an identified breach of planning control."

Officers will complete an impact assessment to identify if direct action is the most appropriate cause of action. They will have to consider various factors when completing this assessment, including the harm or amenity impact of the development on neighbouring properties, personal circumstances of the responsible party, whether direct action would prejudice the council's reputation and the costs involved. Any costs incurred will be recoverable from the responsible party.

Once Redbridge Council's cabinet has approved the policy, it will be subject to a four week consultation period. Following the completion of this, the Council is likely to formally adopt the policy and agree a budget so the proposed direct action policy can be piloted.

A similar process has been successfully adopted by both Newham and Brent councils.

Redbridge Council cabinet member Dev Sharma said "The new planning enforcement policy has real teeth and will stop lengthy planning breaches negotiations. Through direct action, we will be able to go in and put the breach right, and charge the owner the cost."

"It means we can swiftly deal with substandard housing and developments, improving the quality of life in the borough. This new way of dealing with planning breaches will make a real difference in Redbridge," he said.

Planning expert George Wilson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said "Notwithstanding the National Planning Policy Framework's statements on the benefits of local enforcement plans, local planning authorities have been relatively slow in adopting them. Redbridge's approach is a sensible one, setting out clearly its priorities, giving developers an element of direction and clarity as to those planning breaches that are likely to be actively enforced against and when 'direct action' will be taken."

"Of course, Redbridge will still have the ability to enforce against any planning breach under the legislative framework; the plan will not amend or augment these powers," said Wilson. "In our experience, local planning authorities' approaches to enforcement can be extremely inconsistent, so it will be interesting to see, assuming it gets adopted, how the plan works in practice, and particularly if 'direct action' is utilised more."