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Government announces £1 million Planning Enforcement Fund

Currently, local planning authorities have a number of actions available to them to prevent or rectify unauthorised development. These include:

  • rights of entry (to investigate a breach);
  • service of a planning contravention notice or temporary stop notice;
  • issuing a planning enforcement notice (with or without a stop notice); 
  • serving a breach of condition notice; and
  • obtaining an injunction. 

Of these options, obtaining an injunction is the only way that a local planning authority can stop an anticipated breach of planning control, however it also tends to be the most expensive, costing an average of around £13,000.

Acknowledging the expense of proceedings for an injunction, the government has announced that local authorities are to receive a £1 million boost to their efforts to crack down on unauthorised development. The scheme provides a contribution to local planning authorities' costs in securing a court injunction to prevent actual or apprehended breaches of planning control. Authorities can apply for maximum of £10,000 (or 50% of their estimated legal costs, whichever is the lesser) towards the cost of securing an injunction in the High Court or County Court.

The authority does not need to wait until it has used other enforcement action to seek an injunction, although it is typically used where there is a serious breach. 

The government's National Planning Policy Framework provides that local authorities should generally only apply for an injunction as a last resort and only if there have been persistent breaches of planning control over a long period and/or other enforcement options have been, or would be, ineffective. 

The Framework advises local authorities that in deciding whether seeking an injunction to restrain a breach of planning control is appropriate they should consider all relevant considerations, including the personal circumstances of those concerned, and whether:

  • there is clear evidence that a breach of planning control has already occurred, or is likely to occur;
  • injunctive relief is a proportionate remedy in the circumstances of the particular case;
  • it is the appropriate power to use having regard to the fact proceedings for an injunction are the most serious enforcement action that a local planning authority can take, because if a person fails to comply with an injunction they can be committed to prison for contempt of court. 

The local authority will, with regard to the above, have to put its case to obtain a grant. The eligibility criteria for the Scheme provide that funding will not be available if (1) if court proceedings have already commenced; or (2) where the recipient appeals against an enforcement notice within 28 days of its receipt. These constraints may mean local authorities consider the appropriateness of an injunction earlier in the process.

It is difficult to foresee whether the availability of funding will result in more authorities seeking injunctions as a means of planning control, although financial assistance with carrying out their responsibilities will be welcomed.

Contributor: Laura Ford

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at January 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

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