Reporting unauthorised works - Enforcement

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, affords the Council specific powers of enforcement against breaches of planning control. A breach of planning control can include development being implemented which requires planning permission, change of use of land without permission or not complying with details of a permission that has been granted. The Projects and Compliance Team are responsible for investigating alleged breaches and taking enforcement action where necessary.

Note: see guidance on how to report a breach of planning control below.

The following is a guide to what constitutes a breach of planning control and what does not (note: this list should be used as a guide only – it is not exhaustive).

What is a breach of planning control?

A breach of planning control may involve the following development that has occurred without the relevant consents:

  • Unauthorised erection of a building;
  • An  unauthorised change in use of land;
  • The display of an unlawful advertisement;
  • Unauthorised works to a Listed Building;
  • Unauthorised demolition in a Conservation Area;
  • Unauthorised works to trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order or in a Conservation Area;
  • Unauthorised stationing of a caravan or mobile home.

Other breaches of planning control may involve the following:

  • Breach of conditions attached to planning permissions;
  • Not building in accordance with the approved plans of planning permissions;
  • Failure to properly maintain land resulting in harm to the amenity of the area;
  • Unauthorised engineering works i.e. changes in ground levels;
  • Failure to comply with an agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The following are not breaches of planning control:

  • Where development is ‘permitted development’ under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 as amended by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment No 2) Order 2008;
  • Hours of construction works: unless there is a specific planning condition stipulating the hours. Noise issues fall within the remit of Environmental Health, who may be able to assist.
  • Operating a business from home where the residential use remains the primary use and there is no adverse impact on residential amenity;
  • Internal works to a non-listed building;
  • Obstruction of a highway or public right of way;
  • Parking of commercial vehicles on the highway in residential areas or on grass verges;
  • Parking a caravan within the residential boundary of a property provided that it is ancillary to the dwelling;
  • Clearing of land of overgrowth, bushes and non protected trees;
  • Boundary disputes or disputes about ownership;
  • High hedge disputes (these are dealt with under Part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003);
  • Deeds and covenants (which are a private matter);
  • Trespass on land;
  • Health and Safety Issues.

Enforcement action is discretionary

This is an important aspect of planning enforcement – if something is a breach of planning control this is not, in itself, a reason to take enforcement action. Even when it is technically possible to take action the Council is required by Central Government policies and legislation to first decide if such formal action would be “expedient”. Expediency is a test of whether the unauthorised development/activities are causing harm having regard to the Development Plan policies and other material planning considerations. This means that formal enforcement action is discretionary and all the relevant planning circumstances of each case must first be considered.

When investigating alleged breaches a detailed site visit will be undertaken and the planning history studied. The Projects and Compliance Team will subsequently determine whether a breach has occurred and if so is it expedient to pursue formal enforcement action, taking into account all the relevant factors.  In some cases, breaches of planning control constitute a criminal offence and can lead to formal prosecution.

Enforcement investigations can take a long time to resolve because of the need for careful investigation and the legal processes involved. The time taken to determine each breach will vary depending upon the site, the people involved and the nature of the breach itself.

Permitted Development

In cases where the land owner is confident that the proposed development does not require planning permission, they can proceed without the benefit of receiving a Certificate of Lawful Development or Use and therefore the Local Planning Authority (LPA) would have no knowledge of the development (although Building Regulations may be required). However, the LPA strongly advises that an application for a Certificate of Lawful Development or Use is sought to avoid any possible enforcement investigation and subsequent action where the development may indeed require planning permission and not be acceptable.

If you wish to gain a formal view as to whether or not planning permission is required for proposed work you will need to submit a Lawful Development Certificate (proposed) in order to obtain a legal determination.


Outdoor advertisements are controlled by the Town and Country (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992.  Some adverts may be displayed without having to apply to the local planning authority for express consent, subject to conditions and limitations.  Advertisements displayed in contravention of the Regulations are an immediate offence which is open to prosecution by the local planning authority, under section 224 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Contact Details

Should you wish to advise the Council on an enforcement matter, please contact the Projects and Compliance Team.

You will need to provide the following information:

    • Your name, address and contact telephone number;
    • The address of the enforcement complaint; and
    • The details of the complaint.

Please note: we cannot investigate anonymous complaints. However, all complainant details are kept confidential and are exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Follow the links in ‘Suggested Next Steps’ (below) for further information on enforcement of planning breaches.

Matters not investigated by Projects and Compliance

The Projects and Compliance Team only investigate planning related complaints and enquiries. 

  • For complaints relating to noise, litter, refuse collection, high hedges please contact Environmental Health.
  • For matters relating to methods of building construction please contact the Building Control section.
  • For issues arising from private rights of access, neighbour and boundary disputes – these are matters of civil law and advice should be sought from a solicitor or the Citizens Advise Bureau.
  • The Party Wall Act sets out rights and obligations of those extending and will explain rights regarding neighbouring building works that may effect your property.
  • For matters relating to changing road signs, use of roads and pavements contact Herts County Council’s Transport and Streets section.

Suggested Next Steps: