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Madeleine Bauer: Planning Enforcement Resourcing

Madeline Bauer is Policy and Networks Advisor at the RTPI


Planning enforcement is a critical function of the planning system. It is responsible for investigating breaches of planning control and ensuring that the uses of land remain within the bounds of planning permission. Without it, the planning system lacks integrity.

Enforcement teams across England are in crisis. About 89% of councils are currently experiencing backlogs, 80% do not have enough enforcement officers to carry out the workload and less than half have the capacity to monitor compliance of conditions once successful enforcement action has been taken. The last decade of cuts has had an acute impact on this service.

At the request of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities the RTPI has produced a report which investigates the nature and scale of the resourcing problem which enforcement teams face on the ground at local authorities in England. It is backed up by eight in depth interviews with enforcement team leaders across the country, and a survey with responses from a third of local authorities. The results were striking and indicated that the long term reduction in investment has had a major and detrimental impact on both skills and performance.

Interviewees described how:

“The system is falling apart, the pressure that’s put on officers at the moment is just ridiculous. Something needs to give or more people are going to leave the profession.”

“Resources, unreasonable expectations from the public [and] politicians, workloads, completely unsustainable workloads; they’re the biggest problems on the ground.”

73% of survey respondents and seven interviewees reported that their local authority had struggled to recruit enforcement officers in recent years. Multiple rounds of recruitment regularly end in failure, with few to no suitable candidates applying. A lack of awareness of the profession among planning graduates, a lack of planning experience from other applicants, and increased competition from recruitment consultancies has made hiring permanent staff unachievable for many authorities.

Challenges in hiring are accompanied by high workloads and insufficient members of staff. As a result, the majority of local authorities now have large backlogs of cases which forces officers to constantly reprioritise. Additionally, low capacity in central government services causes long delays in both the appeals and the courts system impeding the ability of staff to provide an efficient service. These conditions are incredibly stressful and demoralising for officers.

These circumstances have severely affected the service which is now being provided to the public. Enforcement teams struggle to go out and proactively monitor compliance as budgets have been decimated. They are generally reactive to complaints coming in, and reliant on the public to alert them to non-compliance. Budgetary and time constraints mean that authorities infrequently use the tool of direct action, which could immediately improve an area without having to go through length court or appeal procedures. These findings have worrying implications for the incoming policy of Biodiversity Net Gain which will give enforcement teams new responsibilities without providing for additional resourcing.

Planning enforcement is being stretched to its limits and it’s essential that capacity is increased. In its current condition, planning enforcement is struggling ensure that breaches of planning control are duly investigated and resolved. This undermines the effectiveness of the system as whole.


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