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Planning enforcement communications with complainants to be reviewed

Published: Thursday, 21st April 2022

A report to the council's Corporate Performance Panel showed that

The Planning Enforcement Team are performing extremely well in terms of number of cases they are resolving and are consistently managing a workload of over 500 cases per year. However, the panel did find that some improvements could be made to how the team communicates with complainants and ward councillors about reported breaches.

The work of the Planning Enforcement Team is varied and complex, ranging from breaches of Tree Preservation Orders, work being done without consent in conservation areas or on listed buildings, to structures with no consent, unauthorised development including fences and outbuildings, unauthorised demolition, changes of use, tidy up notices, high hedges complaints, garden encroachment and breaches of planning conditions. 

The length of time it takes to deal with each case varies immensely depending on the parties involved, the complexity of the case and the severity of the breach.  The first approach is always to work with the owner/developer to resolve the issue before moving on to formal notices or prosecution.

The team were commended on their performance. 

It was raised that once a breach is reported, the complainant is not kept informed of progress and neither is the ward councillor for the area where the breach has occurred.  At the request of the Chair of the Corporate Performance Panel, Cllr Jim Moriarty, a review into how communications could be improved to keep people informed about their case is to take place.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Moriarty said: "I would like to add a point to the report which is that the Cabinet Member examine how the planning department can, in compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework, increase confidence in the planning system by improving engagement with complainants."

After the meeting, Cllr Moriarty added: "I feel that it is important that those who report planning breaches or enforcement issues to us be kept informed of what is happening.  Some cases, because of their complexity can take months, or years, to resolve and if people are to have faith in the system, they need to know what is happening with their case on a regular basis."

A review will take place, led by Cllr Richard Blunt, Cabinet Member for Development and Regeneration, who advised: "It is a fine balance between keeping people informed and getting the investigation work done.  We have a relatively small team who are working to capacity, and doing an excellent job.  We will review what improvements can be made, as I agree that communication could be better.  However, we need to be mindful of not delaying actual enforcement work due to officers spending all their time proactively providing updates."

Cllr Blunt will report back to the Corporate Performance Panel once the review is complete.  Any recommendations coming from the panel will be considered by Cabinet.

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