Planning Enforcement: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a breach of planning control?

Undertaking building work or operations on land usually requires planning permission, as do making changes of use to land or buildings.

If such works are undertaken without the appropriate planning permission then this may be a breach of planning control. Significant amounts of smaller scale works and operations however benefit from permitted development rights and can be carried out without the permission of the Council. These would include the erection of fences on land, the temporary use of land for less than 28 days for most uses, and a large range of small scale building works to homes and commercial premises.

Certain specific activities are also controlled by Planning Legislation. These include any significant works to Listed Building and works, including works to trees that are protected by a Tree Preservation Order or are within a Conservation Area. The felling of trees not covered by order or within a Conservation Area do not need the Councils permission.

How can I tell if works I see being undertaken have the permission of the Council?

The Council's 'Planning Register' holds records of all works that have been granted permission by the Council. The easiest way to view this is through Runnymede's interactive mapping service, which can display all planning applications decided in the last 90 days, as well as enable you to search on the map or by address for any outstanding permissions on any piece of land.
The mapping system also shows all the Tree Preservation Orders, Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings in the Borough.

What powers do the Council have to prevent breaches of planning control?

The Council, as a Local Planning Authority, has the power to take enforcement action against land owners for any breach of planning control that occurs.
In some circumstances we can also take action against individuals who undertake specific types of work as well. Breaching planning control however is almost always not a criminal offence, and the Council has no power to directly intervene to prevent someone undertaking an unauthorised development or change of use of land.
The Council's powers are limited to being able to seek restitution and resolution from land owners for unacceptable development after it has occurred.

Do the Police have any powers to prevent breaches of planning control occurring?

The Police only have powers to enforce the criminal law, and as most breaches of planning control are not criminal offences their ability to prevent breaches of planning control is very limited. For example the police do not have powers under the Criminal Law to move people on from unauthorised sites unless these persons are trespassers.

What should I do if I see someone breaching planning control outside of the opening hours of the Council?

Breaches of Planning Control, such as unauthorised developments, changes of use of land or works to protected trees can often occur at weekends or otherwise outside of the opening hours of the Council (Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 5pm, and Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm).
All potential breaches of planning control can be logged on the Council's website by using the Planning Enforcement Form. This form will ensure the Council has the minimum necessary information to enable the Council to investigate your concerns. If your concern is linked to an existing breach of planning control the Council is already investigating then any additional information you wish to share can be emailed to planning@runnymede.gov.uk.

The Council operates an out of hours care and control centre that monitors CCTV in the borough and can be contacted 24hrs a day, every day of the year. This centre, called Safer Runnymede, can be contacted by calling 01932 425060. If you feel it is necessary to report a breach of planning control immediately the Safer Runnymede centre can be contacted and they can log your concerns and contact information.

What can I expect from the Council when I have identified a breach of planning control outside of opening hours?

Once the Safer Runnymede centre has logged your concerns and contact information these details will be passed to the Councils Planning Enforcement Team for investigation when the Council offices are next opened.
The Councils Planning Enforcement Officers will review the investigation request, prioritise a response in line with the Councils adopted Icon for pdf Planning Enforcement Charter [170.16KB], and commence an investigation. If you have provided contact details they will make contact with you to keep you informed of the investigations undertaken

What can I expect from the Council in relation to noise and smoke nuisance problems outside of normal office opening hours?

The Environmental Health department does not operate a 24 hours call out service for the investigation of nuisance complaints.
It is suggested that contact can be made with Safer Runnymede Centre who will be able to log your concerns and contact information.
Safer Runnymede Centre will pass the logged details to the Council's Environmental Health department for investigation when the Council's offices are next opened.  The Council's Environmental Health Officers will seek to contact the complainant and discuss the matter further in order to ascertain the facts surrounding the matter being complained about and advise about what actions the Council is able to take in relation to the complaint.

What should I do if I think other offences may be occurring at the same time as a breach of planning control?

If you are concerned that, in addition to a breach of planning control, any criminal offence is also occurring then you should contact the Police.
In respect of offences that you believe do not require an emergency response, or you need advice regarding crime prevention, then you should call 101.
If however there is an emergency, such as when a crime is in progress, someone suspected of a crime is nearby, when there is danger to life or when violence is being used or threatened then you should call 999.
For example if you are concerned that someone is obstructing the highway by undertaking works on it, then you should call 101. If you are threatened or you feel there is an immediate danger of a breach of peace linked to unauthorised works being undertaken then you should call 999. Information about criminality can also be submitted  anonymously using Crimestoppers (0800 555 111).

What does the Council do with my Planning Enforcement complaint?

Officers will first need to establish if there has been a breach of planning control at the site. This will involve reviewing planning records and if necessary, undertaking a site visit. It may be necessary to obtain certain facts through the service of a Planning Contravention Notice, which is a formal request for information, on the owners or occupiers of a site.

Many investigations are resolved following discussion with the landowners and subsequently no formal action is required.  If it is considered that the development may be acceptable the landowner will be given the opportunity to apply for retrospective planning permission.  On registration of the planning application residents are free to comment on the development although please note all comments will be publicly available.
If the development is found to be unacceptable and discussions fail to remedy the breach of planning control then landowner and occupier may be liable to formal enforcement action.

How quickly will the Planning Enforcement complaint be dealt with?

All complaints will be prioritised depending on the seriousness of the alleged breach of planning control. The table below indicates how cases are prioritised. There is a high workload in the Enforcement Section and therefore it is not possible to offer any strict timescales for when your complaint will be dealt with as workloads vary.

Urgent complaints are defined as those where damage is being done that cannot possibly be undone in the future. Unless your concerns relate to a protected tree or a listed building being damaged, it is unlikely to be viewed as urgent. Building works (no matter how substantial) can be reversed. Building without the correct planning permission is no more urgent simply because they are in progress at the time of your complaint. Barring exceptional circumstances the Council cannot call an immediate halt to works regardless of whether permission has been obtained.

High priority

Type of development:

  • Unauthorised demolition or alterations to a Listed Building or other building which it is considered essential to retain
  • Unauthorised felling or works to a preserved tree, tree in a Conservation Area, or other trees which it is considered essential to retain
  • Breaches of planning control or conditions which results in serious harm to amenity in a neighbourhood and affects a number of parties
  • Unauthorised development within a Conservation Area which is likely to have a permanent impact on the Conservation Area
  • Unauthorised encampments by travellers
  • Unauthorised development which might be a danger to the public or might be likely to cause accidents

Investigation timescale: As soon as possible, complaints given priority over medium and low category.

Medium priority

Type of development:

  • Breaches of planning control or conditions that cause demonstrable nuisance to the residential enjoyment of neighbouring properties
  • Breaches of advert control involving widespread fly-posting
  • Breaches of planning control or conditions where the time limit for enforcement action will expire within the next six months

Investigation timescale: As soon as possible, prioritised depending upon merits of the case

Low priority

Type of development:

  • Advert control not included above
  • Breaches which are technical in nature and not in significant conflict with planning policy
  • Breaches which are temporary in nature
  • Breaches likely to be resolved quickly by negotiation

Investigation timescale: As soon as possible, with all complaints placed in a queue from date of receipt

Please note that planning applications (including retrospective applications following enforcement investigations) normally take about two or three months from outset to conclusion, whilst planning appeals can take up to one year from outset to conclusion, sometimes longer depending on the waiting lists for the Planning Inspectorate.

Can I remain anonymous?

If you do not provide us with your details the Enforcement Officer will not be able to ask you for any further information we may need, which in turn could delay, or even stop our investigations. Also, we also cannot get back to you with the conclusion of our investigations if we do not know who you are.

Will my details become known to others?

Under the Data Protection Act 2018, the name and address of the person making the complaint, or any other contact details, will not be disclosed.

The only exception to this is if the Council was to decide it was appropriate to take formal enforcement action and you had been asked to collect evidence to support your complaint. In these cases you may be asked to give that evidence at any appeal against the enforcement notice for example at a hearing or public inquiry, but you will be asked first if you are prepared to do so.

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Council have to make available certain information to the public, including information about complaints. However if a request is made under this legislation for the identity of the complainant or for information which may identify the complainant you will be contacted for your permission to disclose your details, if you refuse then the request will be denied for this personal information. Please be aware however that in exceptional circumstances, the information may be required to be disclosed by law.

Will I be kept up to date regarding the investigation?

When we receive your completed form requesting an enforcement investigation, you will receive an acknowledgement. Officers will then progress the investigation according to the procedures set out in the Enforcement Charter. Officers will usually contact you when they need to verify information with you or have significant news to report to you. If you have new information to report please do not hesitate to contact the team. However, in order for investigations to be conducted as speedily as possible your assistance in keeping requests for updates to a minimum is greatly appreciated by all team members.

Can I contact the Council to update them on my complaint?

Yes. Once an investigation is underway, Runnymede Borough Council will gladly receive further information from you regarding the issue at hand. It would greatly assist officers if this could be done by email.

What is formal enforcement action?

The Council has the power to serve an enforcement notice requiring unauthorised development or uses to be removed or stopped if discussions fail to regularise the situation or if planning permission is unlikely to be granted as it would fail to comply with relevant policies.

An enforcement notice does not take immediate effect, and a person receiving one can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against the notice. If an appeal is lodged, then the Council's action is effectively frozen until an independent Planning Inspector has decided on the outcome of the appeal. The unauthorised works or use can normally carry on during the appeal process. Once an enforcement notice comes into effect (assuming the Council wins any appeal) it is an offence not to comply with the requirements of the notice. If the landowner ignores the notice, he or she can be prosecuted, and, if found guilty, fined.