Ombudsman urges councils to take firm action on planning breaches

7 Jun 16

Councils and other planning authorities need to act more decisively when taking enforcement action against planning breaches in order to maintain control of the built environment, the local government ombudsman has said.

Publishing a report examining a case where a man complained that Hackney Council spent more than five years trying unsuccessfully to get his neighbour to remove an unauthorised extension, Jane Martin said all authorities must ensure effective enforcement measures are taken.

Planning authorities must keep track of enforcement action, and follow through when they promise to act in order for the system to function, she stated.
The report highlighted problems that can occur when councils do not take decisive enforcement action or keep neighbours up-to-date on progress.

In the Hackney case, the neighbour failed to comply with orders made by the Crown Court, continued to build, and prevented council contractors from removing the unlawful extension. Building work started in May 2006 and the first enforcement noticed was served in March 2009. The complainant bought his house in 2010, confident that the council would enforce the action. However, the extension remains in place, and imposes on his privacy.

After an investigation, LGO 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.

In the case of the extension, the council appointed specialist contractors in December 2015, who have now moved on site to remove the extension.

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,” she added.

On the Hackney case, Martin acknowledged it was a difficult situation for the council and the authority had improved its communication over the past six months.
She ruled that the council should apologise to the man and pay him £2,500, as well as providing him with updates on the action to remove the unauthorised development, as well as update its enforcement strategy.

“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,” Martin concluded.

Responding to the report, a Hackney Council spokesman said: “The council had already taken action against the unauthorised development prior to receiving the ombudsman report and will fully meet their recommendations, all of which apart from one were initiated by the council before the ombudsman reported.”

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