Research shows planning enforcement 'the Cinderella Service' is at risk

Issue date: 05 January 2015

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Researchers from the University of the West of England working in collaboration with planning enforcement professionals have found that effective planning enforcement in local authorities is at risk due to limited resources.

The research found that enforcement is still very much the Cinderella service within planning departments, and the research warns that a lack of emphasis on this vulnerable service will inevitably cause problems in our built and natural environments, that would be avoided if enforcement was adequately resourced.

Adam Sheppard explains, “Planning enforcement is in a way the police service within the planning department but is often staffed by a very small team or even a single member of staff. It is not about punishing people who breech planning requirements though, it is about preventing harmful activity, problem solving and finding solutions where things are not happening as they should be. The issue is primarily around management, organisation and resourcing of the service and these are compromising the ability of Local Planning Authorities to deliver a robust and effective service in many cases.

“The work of a planning enforcement team is far reaching and includes the overseeing of remedial work, retrospective permissions and 'making good'. There is also a significant role in ensuring that environmental quality is maintained and correct use of landand buildings is actioned and also that once planning has been given and buildings do not alter alter without permission over time.

“Planning enforcement is under great strain; it appears under-resourced in many cases and lacking in profile and emphasis; issues of management and organisation are also present. These factors are impacting upon the effectiveness and robustness of planning enforcement services.”

The research does point out that the planning system itself does not appear fundamentally problematic and the overwhelming opinion of the participants was that the legal construct is sound and the necessary tools are available to deliver a proactive and robust planning enforcement function operating in support of the development management approach.

Adam Sheppard continues, “The planning enforcement service do deal with small scale problems like a fenceor extension being put up without the correct permission. Sometimes, however, problems can be very complex and large scale, needing the coordination of many services including fire, health and safety, the police and others working in partnership to resolve situations such as entire properties being built without permission, or serious and harmful infringements of land and building use.

“This research highlights the continued under investment and management challenges facing enforcement services across England which threaten to undermine the profession and those who work within it. The implications of this are serious, and include a degraded environment and abused planning system. Examples of good practice are out there, but a response to the current situation is needed now.”

To read the report in full, please visit 'Planning Enforcement England: at the crossroads' on the UWE Research Repository. The research was supported by the Royal Town Planning Institute's Network for Planning Enforcement (RTPI NAPE).

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