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Planning Compliance

What does the Compliance Team do?

The Compliance Team handles planning enforcement issues. These are situations where work, alterations or development has occurred without the required permission being granted – these occurrences are called breaches of planning control. When this happens, the Compliance Team investigates to assess the extent of the problem and to decide on what action should be taken.

For an overview of breaches of planning control, you can watch our video:

What is a breach of planning control?

The following lists out the main examples of when a breach has occurred:

  • Building work or alterations have been carried out without planning permission – you can check if permission has been granted by searching on our Public access database.
  • Building work has planning permission, but has not been carried out in accordance with the approved plans.
  • There has been a failure to comply with the conditions that were attached to the planning permission.
  • Work or demolition has occurred to a listed building or a building in a conservation area.
  • Unauthorised work to a tree or trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
  • Work to a tree or trees in a conservation area, or work to any rural agricultural hedgerow, has been carried out.
  • The significant raising or lowering of ground levels or land, or the formation of earth bunds.
  • The use of land or a building has changed without permission.
  • Unauthorised display of an advertisement or sign.
  • The land is in poor condition and is impacting on the visual appearance of the wider area.
  • Short term visitor accommodation - with short-term lets of properties where there is a high rate of turnover of occupiers and where properties are used to accommodate large groups of people, there is possibly a need for planning permission on the basis that the residential use of the property has changed in a material way. Please note that this is an evolving aspect of planning control and there are limited guidelines in place.
  • Development has occurred which is not permitted because an Article 4 Direction has been made (an Article 4 Direction restricts permitted development rights, which means that a lot of the things people normally do to their land or houses without planning permission typically do then require planning permission).

What isn’t a breach?

The following lists out examples where a breach almost certainly has not occurred:

  • Building work or extensions that don’t require planning permission. Legislation allows for a range of building works which can be undertaken without formal planning permission – this is known as permitted development.
  • Changes in the use of land or buildings which are not so significant that they comprise a material change of use.
  • The display of advertisements which do not require consent - the regulations relating to advertisements allow the advertiser to display certain types of advertisements without the need to make a request for planning permission.
  • Where development has been carried out more than 4 years ago it is immune from enforcement action.
  • Where a residential property has been created for more than 4 years it is immune from enforcement action.
  • Where a change of use has existed for more than 10 years it is immune from enforcement action.
  • Issues relating to waste disposal, burning, including bonfires and tipping which are handled by Environmental Health at either South Cambridgeshire District Council or Cambridge City Council.
  • Issues relating to the adopted highway (including advertisements displayed within the Highway or on street furniture, or illegally parked cars) – these should be referred to Cambridgeshire County Council which is the Highways Authority.
  • Problems relating to noise and disturbance; smell nuisance and light pollution which are investigated by Environmental Health at either South Cambridgeshire District Council or Cambridge City Council.
  • If buildings or extensions have been constructed inadequately or there are concerns regarding potentially dangerous structures, you should contact our Building control department.
  • Problems relating to covenants or other legal restrictions on a specific piece of land or building – these are civil and/or legal matters.
  • Neighbour disputes concerning antisocial behaviour (this is a police matter), boundary, or land ownership disputes.
  • Work to trees that are not covered by a tree protection order or are not in a conservation area.
  • Suspected future breaches (things you believe might happen).
  • Trade or competition complaints.

How to raise a complaint

Using the above lists as a guide, if you suspect a breach of planning permission has occurred you can use our online form to alert our Compliance Team.  You will need to provide certain pieces of information, such as the nature of the breach and the location, as well as your name, address and contact details.  In addition, photos or other documents can also be uploaded for inclusion. Your personal details are held in the strictest confidence and will only be available to the Compliance Team employees working on the case.  In some instances, the issue may result in court action having to be taken, and you may be called to act as a witness – this is rare however, and your participation is entirely voluntary.

What happens next

If there is enough information in your enquiry form to allow officers to proceed with the case, they will start their investigations. Some cases are very straightforward, and investigations may only take a matter of days before establishing whether a breach of planning control has occurred or not. More complex cases can take longer. Investigations take many forms and may necessitate several visits over a period of time.

But I want this to be sorted quickly!

We do appreciate that when a breach of planning control occurs, people may suffer as a consequence and want the matter dealt with swiftly.  It is important however that those breaches of planning control which are considered more serious than others are dealt with more urgently.

Our aim is to carry out an initial site visit within 5 working days of receipt of a complaint. When an investigation is considered necessary, cases will be dealt with on a priority basis as follows:

  • High priority cases are for work which is irreversible or irreplaceable and these will be immediately investigated – examples include damage or loss of listed buildings or protected trees.
  • Medium priority cases are for when activities have or can cause harm, such as adverse effects on conservation areas or breaches of conditions. Our aim is to complete the investigation and assessment within 10 working days of the site visit.
  • Low priority cases are for a development which may cause some harm but could be made acceptable by way of implementing conditions or simple correction action. Our aim with such cases is to complete the investigation within 15 days of the site visit.

In every case, we will try to achieve an outcome at the earliest possible stage – do remember however that our officers can only operate within powers of the legislation.

Will you tell me exactly what has been done during your investigations?

There is a high level of confidentiality attached to planning enforcement enquiries and, unlike planning applications, such files are not public records.

We will tell you the outcome of our investigations with regard to whether or not there has been a breach of planning control. If there has been a breach, we will advise you of any action we will be taking to remedy the situation and update you accordingly until the matter is resolved.

Will you always take formal action where you are satisfied there has been a breach of planning control?

The council always aims to resolve planning enforcement enquiries amicably, without resorting to further formal action. Ideally, the person responsible for the breach of planning control will remedy the situation before any formal action is pursued – this is particularly expected where there is clear evidence that an unauthorised use or development is causing serious harm and rapid corrective action is considered reasonable and achievable.

I’ve received an enforcement notice – what should I do?

We will contact you to discuss the matter. In brief you are advised to:

  • Immediately stop work on the development until a course of action has been discussed and agreed with us.
  • Respond promptly to any correspondence you receive, which might include a legal notice to provide us with more information, and a date by which you will need to reply.

We recognise that genuine mistakes are made, and the vast majority of complaints are resolved without the need for any formal action. We will always advise you on the best course of action to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

How to appeal a notice

Enforcement appeals in England are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency which takes an unbiased approach to the procedures. There's more information about the appeal process and how to submit an online enforcement appeal through the appeals page.

Enforcement register

It is a statutory requirement under Section 188 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 for every planning authority to keep and maintain a register of notices, which relate to their area and open for public inspection at all reasonable hours.

The Register must contain information about the following orders and notices: 

  • Planning enforcement orders
  • Planning enforcement notices
  • Stop notices
  • Breach of condition notices

How to search for this information

Cambridge City and South Cambs District Council Enforcement Register is part of the Planning Public Access system. You may find the following guide Public Access User Guide useful to search for this information.

Enforcement policy

The information on this website provides an overview of the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service’s (GCSP) approach to enforcement. The purpose of the Planning Enforcement Policy document is to provide a comprehensive explanation of the ways in which we will use our enforcement powers. The policy sets out what people who use the service can expect, how GCSP employees should apply enforcement powers fairly and consistently, what action should be taken, and how decisions will be made in respect of pursuing formal action.

You can view our existing policies via the links below. Please note that a new policy is currently being prepared, and a revised single policy for the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning service will soon be introduced.

South Cambridgeshire District Council Enforcement Policy

Cambridge City Enforcement Policy

Report a breach of planning control

Please note that using the below form is the only way to report a breach - reports sent to our email address will not be responded to.