Olivia Stapleford is Chair of the National Association of Planning Enforcement. She has recently written a guidance note for planning enforcement professionals on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (2023). Her blog below looks at some of the most impactful changes being introduced.
The Levelling up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA) has introduced a number of extremely useful changes for planning enforcement. Many of these were proposed by the RTPI’s National Association of Planning Enforcement as part of our work to influence Government and promote the proactive power of planning on members’ behalf.
Despite the well-documented resource and political pressures facing planning enforcement teams across the country, I hope that local authorities can embrace the changes. Here, I take a look at how planning enforcement officers will need to respond to the most impactful changes introduced in the LURA.
S115: Time limits for enforcement
The LURA radically overhauls the immunity rules for enforcement action, confirming that all breaches of planning control can only become immune from enforcement action after 10 years. This includes breaches such as change of use of a building to residential or operational development, which previously became immune after four years without planning enforcement action.
So why does this matter? Many operational development breaches are either minor or obvious – for example, erecting a fence above height limits. The previous four-year time limit for these types of breaches arguably gave local authorities ample opportunity to receive an allegation, investigate accordingly and take enforcement action if necessary.
But now, local authorities may take enforcement action against operational development up to 10 years after the breach occurred – and it will likely be tricky, for example, to demonstrate harm caused by a fence erected nine years ago. Once this change comes into effect, local authorities will need to think hard about how to approach enforcement action against operational development which has existed for longer than four years.
S117: Enforcement Warning Notices (EWN)
Enforcement officers who have worked solely in England might wonder what the point of an EWN is. But officers in Wales have had the power to serve EWNs for some time now and find them a useful negotiation tool.
An EWN is used where an officer considers that a breach of planning control can be resolved through a retrospective planning application. EWNs provide an opportunity to highlight issues and advise on compliance rather than immediately taking formal enforcement action. The notice acts as a formal ‘invitation’ to submit an application but makes it clear that a) the clock for immunity has now stopped and b) that if an application is not submitted, formal action may be considered.
But why would an officer take formal action if they have declared via service of an EWN that permission is likely to be granted? In many cases, developments may be acceptable ‘in principle’ but will only be fully acceptable with conditions. If an officer thinks conditions are required to remedy a violation, they may determine an EWN is inadequate and take direct formal action to impose enforceable conditions.
There are eight more changes which directly impact on planning enforcement which I have summarised in the document ‘Guidance note for planning enforcement professionals on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (2023)’. The LURA became law on 26 October 2023, however, many of the changes relating to enforcement brought in by the legislation are yet to take effect.
These changes should make the role of enforcement officers easier, not more difficult. Planning enforcement rarely gets any time in the spotlight, but I hope that the LURA can change that in a positive way; attracting more people to the profession, continuing to underpin the planning regime, and continually improving public perception of planning and planning enforcement.