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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 15/01/2008
Planning Enforcement Report



(Portfolio Holder: Councillor Brian Ellis)
(Wards Affected: All)
Summary and purpose:

The purpose of this report is to update Members on the performance of the Planning Enforcement team.

Environmental implications:

There are no direct environmental implications.

Social / community implications:

There are no direct social/community implications.

E-Government implications:
There are no direct e-government implications.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct resource implications arising from the report itself. However, the report may form part of the background for a wider service review to be considered by the Environment and Leisure, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive.

There are no direct legal implications arising from the report.

1. Introduction.

At the meeting of the Committee on 26th November 2007 it was resolved:-

The Committee agreed to request a brief report on the Planning Enforcement system.

This report is intended to bring the Committee up to date with enforcement performance since September 2005 when the team was first established. The report will address the following:

Resource Issues & Staffing
Overall Service Delivery
Interface with Public
Interface with Members
Prioritising enforcement cases
Overall resources and resilience
Improved communication with complainants
Number of outstanding cases

2. Resource Issues & Staffing

The Enforcement Team comprises of the Principal Planning Enforcement Officer; the Senior Enforcement Officer; one Enforcement Officer; two Compliance Officers and; a Planning Technician.

The team was fully staffed between September 2005 and August 2006, when they were able to set up a sound working system to address both the old backlog of cases and the steady stream of new complaints. However one Compliance Officer’s post became vacant in August 2006 and was not filled until August 2007. Subsequently, the second Compliance Officer’s post became vacant in February 2007 and was not filled until September 2007. The Enforcement Officer became ill between March to September 2007. This placed a huge burden on the remaining Team, which struggled to cover three posts as well as their own work. It is considered that the current resources for the enforcement team is appropriate as is demonstrated below.

3. Overall Service Delivery

Initially the Enforcement Team inherited over 1200 old cases when it was set-up in September 2005. Most of the old cases were dated between 1998 and 2005. These were initially divided into areas and the oldest cases investigated first to try to avoid any breaches becoming immune from enforcement action. This backlog of cases has been reduced to some 500 cases. However the cases shown on table 1 also include new cases received.

During the first year when the Enforcement Team was fully staffed, the new Compliance Officers addressed all new complaints that the Team received whilst the three more experienced Officers dealt with the backlog. This system worked very well because the backlog was reducing and the new cases were being dealt with, resulting in fewer service complaints.

The Team suffered severe staff shortages between February and September 2007. Having only two Officers to cope with the old cases and the steady stream of new cases has meant only extremely urgent and high-priority or profile cases could be addressed during this period. The impact of this is shown in table 1 when cases being closed dropped from 215 in January to March to 68 between July and September.

The Enforcement Team has now been fully staffed since September 2007. The arrival of the 2 Compliance Officers has had a very positive impact on the workload and the backlog of new cases that has accumulated during 2007 is now being addressed. It is anticipated that the current workload will be under control by Spring 2008, allowing for the new officers training. It is anticipated that performance for the October to December quarterly report will show significant improvement with an estimated cases closed at around 125.

Cases Received
Investigations completed
Cases on hand
% Investigated within 8 weeks
Cases closed
Enforcement notices served
PCN’s served
Stop Notices served
Direct Action

4. Interface With Public.

Communications with the Public has improved dramatically with regular meetings being held with not only members of the public but developers, agents and other outside bodies such as Surrey County Council. This has led to some very difficult cases being addressed without the need for enforcement action to be taken.

Members of the public are now able to direct their concerns directly to the Enforcement Team. The Team, is able to take time to talk to the public on the telephone who are sometimes very confused or frustrated with the Planning system. Their knowledge of the Town and Country Planning Act allows them to explain, in lay mans terms, what the Enforcement Team can and can not do and in fact whether a breach of planning control has taken place. This can reduce the number of complaints the Enforcement Team receives and quickly re-directs the public to other Departments that may be able to assist them with their concerns.

The Principal Enforcement Officer has made herself available to talk at Parish Council meetings. This has enabled her to listen to public concerns and to again explain what the Team are able to do within local communities and how the public can assist us when making enquiries to the Team. She has found that in many cases the Enforcement Team are blamed for lack of action when in fact some matters should have been addressed by Surrey County Council, or were civil matters. The general feed back from these meetings are that the speedy investigation of new cases was most welcomed.

Enquiries from members of the public reporting alleged breaches of planning control can now be submitted via the Waverley Borough Council website. The website also gives information on the work of the Enforcement Team and details of all Notices can also be viewed on-line.

Complainants are also able to directly discuss their concerns with individual Officers dealing with their case. This is mainly done over the telephone but on-site and office meetings also take place.

The public can be either complainants or those whose actions are being complained about. When a complaint is received an acknowledgement letter is sent to the complainant telling them that an investigation will be carried out and they will be informed of the outcome. An initial prioritisation level is given at that stage. The intention is that within 8 weeks the case would have been investigated and a way forward identified depending on whether a breach has actually taken place and whether it is harmful. The priority attached to a case is reviewed at this point. The complainant would be informed of progress at that stage. Further updates would be given at significant stages in the progressing of the matter.

In respect of the instigator of the potential development when a visit is carried out they are informed of the initial assessment. This is followed up by a letter and possibly a Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) depending on the nature of any breach. Urgent stop notice and enforcement action is considered if development is sufficiently harmful. When investigations are complete a letter is sent explaining the position.

The Team has recently reviewed their relationship with the public and has either implemented or will be implementing the following improvements:

Review of initial acknowledgement letter to complainant
Review public information of the Councils website
Review letter to applicants regarding the discharge of their precedent conditions
Guidance information on the work of Planning Enforcement and other issues around the Borough such as fly posting; in the form of leaflets or booklets

5. Interface with Members

Members are given quarterly reports at Planning meetings updating them on outstanding cases where Enforcement Notices have been served. When the Enforcement Team was first established in 2005, priority was given to the number of outstanding Notices that had not had their compliance checked. The Principal Enforcement Officer made it a priority to address these matters and as a result a number of Notices were complied with and cases closed. However, there still remains a number of difficult and complicated Notices that have been progressed but still need a lot of work to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. A number of these cases will require further legal action pursued against them and, with Members support, a number of direct actions will be necessary in 2008.

Members are encouraged to meet with Enforcement Officers in the office to discuss their concerns within their individual areas. Several Members have taken advantage of this system. It is considered this system works well for both parties in that it allows Members to share “local” information with the Team as well as the Team being able to discuss their progress. The Enforcement Team would like to extend this system by holding a regular monthly surgery with Members with effect as of January. The Team would like to operate this service every first Monday of every month in the Council Offices. Would Members find this helpful?

Member training in enforcement is being organised and this will be of great benefit to Members in understanding how the enforcement process works and how they can assist Officers to resolve cases.

6. Prioritising Enforcement Cases

The table below shows how Enforcement cases are prioritised as agreed by Members in 2004.

A risk assessment is made of each case at an early stage to determine its priority in the workload.

a) Primary Criteria

Health and Safety danger
Close to exempt time period (4 years/10 years) and
Imminent loss of irreplaceable asset e.g. Listed Building, Protected Tree etc.

b) Secondary

Score out of Five
1.Easily reversible (1 easy – 5 difficult)
2.Level of public concern (number of objections) (1 low interest – 5 high)
3.Harm to land use policies (1 low – 5 high)
4.Harm to general character and amenity (1 low – 5 high)
5.Flagrant breach (repeat offender?) (1 no – 5 yes)
Score: 20 – 25 – High priority. 10 – 20 – Medium priority. 0 – 10 Low priority.
If there is a yes response to the primary criteria the investigation will be promoted to a high priority case. Where secondary criteria apply a range of responses will apply from immediate response to not urgent. However the fallback position is that all cases should be investigated within the 8 week target unless there are reasonable reasons why this cannot be met.

It is considered by the Enforcement Team that this prioritisation system does not work in practice, as it requires a site visit to be made prior to prioritising the case and the backlog skews this assessment. It is therefore suggested that the following system be instigated from April 2008 when the current workload should be at a more manageable level. This proposed system is much easier to understand and implement from the outset of the investigation.

Priority One – Major – First contact or site visit within 24 hours of receipt of complaint

Works that are irreversible or irreplaceable or constitute a serious breach
Unauthorised works to a Listed Building
Gypsy or traveller unauthorised incursions
Breaches of Article 4 Direction
Significant development within the Green Belt
Unauthorised works to trees protected by a TPO or within a Conservation Area
Compliance of Enforcement Notices

Priority Two – Medium – First contact or site visit within 5 working days from receipt of complaint

Activities that cause harm to residential amenity i.e. car businesses
Change of use
General development
Breach of conditions and not built in accordance with approved plans
General compliance checks
Adverts including fly posting and A boards

Priority Three – Low – First contact or site visit within 10 working days from receipt of complaint

Means of enclosure
Dropped curbs
Satellite dishes
Minor operations
Any low impact to residential amenity

Anonymous complaints are generally not investigated unless the complaint relates to any priority one subjects.

Cases are currently investigated according to the date on which they were received or the difficulty of retrieving the situation for example, unauthorised works to listed buildings and protected trees are automatically priority one cases being investigated within 24 hours of receipt by the Team. Cases are then investigated according to how close they may be coming to their immunity time. Once the old cases have been cleared it is anticipated that the Team, instead of the current 10 working days, will initially investigate most cases within 5 working days from date of receipt. However, this target cannot be realistically altered until the current work levels within the Team have been dramatically reduced.

7. Number of Outstanding Cases

Reference has already been made to table 1 that sets the cases in hand, however, Members may wish to note the trend of new cases in this quarter (October to December) is estimated at 104, which is a decline from the previous quarter. This leaves an estimated 938 cases are currently being investigated by the Team. With a fully staffed Enforcement Team and the decrease of new cases being received, the Teams target to bring the workload to a more manageable level may be achieved by April 2008.

8. Recommendation

That the Committee:

1. Notes the report; and

2. Passes on any observations on the service to the Chief Planning Officer or the Executive as appropriate.

Background Papers

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.


Name: Gina Pink Telephone: 01483 523114

E-mail: gpink@waverley.gov.uk