Enforcement Policy

The Council's Enforcement Policy sets out how we deal with enforcing the laws that we have a duty to enforce as a Local Authority.

Appendix 2 - Planning Enforcement


South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council are the responsible Authorities for the Planning Enforcement Service within their administrative areas. Effective enforcement is important as a means of maintaining public confidence in the planning system.

In order for the Councils to give the best possible service to members of the public, it is vital that this document clearly sets out what matters we are able to deal with and how we balance demands on our services against the resources available to us.

What is Planning Enforcement?

The Councils are responsible for investigating breaches of planning control which will ordinarily constitute the following:

  • Development or change of use of land without planning permission
  • Not complying with conditions of a planning permission
  • Demolition in a Conservation Area without consent
  • Neglecting land or buildings which harms local amenity
  • Advertisements which harm amenity or public safety

The planning enforcement team will not investigate:

  • Boundary disputes/trespass
  • Destruction of property during the building process
  • Devaluation of property
  • Competition to other business
  • Squatting
  • Unsafe structures
  • Fly tipping
  • Civil disputes
  • Party wall disputes

The Councils' Approach to Planning Enforcement

Local Authorities have a general discretion to take enforcement action, when they regard it as expedient. The decisive issue for the Councils will be whether the breach would unacceptably affect public amenity or an existing use of land/buildings meriting protection in the public interest.

Planning legislation and policies will be enforced in a fair, equitable and consistent manner, although care will be taken to ensure that the merits of each case are carefully considered. The emphasis of South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council policy is on persuasion, influence and education to secure the aims of the above legislation and planning policies.

Where serious harm is being caused by the breach of planning control, both Councils will take firm action and may not enter into any negotiations before doing so.

Enforcement action should always be commensurate with the breach of planning control to which it relates. The Councils will not normally take enforcement action to remedy a slight variation in excess of what would have been permitted by Permitted Development Legislation or Planning Permission.

Section 70c of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) provides that a local planning authority may decline to determine an application where any part of that application relates in whole or part to the matters specified in an enforcement notice as constituting a breach of planning control. The purpose of the provision is to stop time being taken with repeat applications for slightly amended schemes, each subsequently being taken to appeal which delays full compliance with an existing enforcement notice. Both Councils will use this power where any proposed application fails to sufficiently address the breaches of planning control set out within the existing enforcement notice on the land.

What action can the Councils take?

In every case it investigates, the Councils must first establish whether a breach of planning control has in fact taken place. In some cases this will not always be clear. In such circumstances the authority may serve a 'Planning Contravention Notice' on the owner/occupier of land or property. This will require answers to specific questions relating to any alleged breach of planning control.

If a breach of planning control is established and it is considered expedient to do so then the Councils can take formal action. This can be through:

  • Service of an 'Enforcement Notice'
  • Service of a 'Breach of Condition Notice'
  • Service of a 'Section 215 Notice'
  • Service of a 'Listed Building Enforcement Notice'
  • Service of a 'Conservation Area Enforcement Notice'
  • Service of a 'Section 207 Notice' requiring the replacement of a protected tree which has been felled without permission.

Failure to comply with any of the above notices is a criminal offence.

A copy of any Enforcement Notice served will be kept on a publicly available Enforcement Register, a copy of the Notice will also be placed on the Land Charges Register. The Notice will remain on public record and will be revealed on any property searches.

Where the requirements of any Enforcement Notices are not complied with within the specified time frame the Councils will take appropriate action which can take the form of a Criminal Prosecution, Injunctive Relief or Direct Action.

In cases where it appears that there has been significant financial benefit in failing to comply with any enforcement notice, the Council will use the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to seek to recover any monies or assets gained during the time the Enforcement Notice has been breached.

Prior to taking any formal enforcement action or instigating any prosecution proceedings in relation to planning enforcement, the Councils will give careful consideration to the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1988. The Council will also have due regard to Public Sector Quality Duty as set out within s.149, Equality Act 2010.

Complaints of Breaches of Planning Control

The Councils will investigate complaints of a breach of planning control if they are provided with:

  • The exact address/location of the property or land affected
    •  (if the property/land is not correctly identified Council officer may not be able to inspect the site)
  • Details of the alleged breach
  • Any other relevant information
  • Your name and address

Complaints can be forwarded by email, by telephone, in writing or through the South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council websites. Contact details are available at the end of this Policy. South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council have a policy of maintaining the confidentiality of the complainant in all cases.

Anonymous complaints will not be accepted. If you are concerned about submitting your details, please contact your Local Councillor who can submit a complaint on your behalf. We will then be able to use the Councillor as the point of contact and they in turn can update you on the complaint.

The Councils receive approximately 700 planning enforcement complaints every year which must be investigated. When assessing your complaint the Councils will take into account whether the works are:

  • To a Listed Building
  • Causing a serious risk to public health
  • To a Protected Tree
  • Within a Conservation Area
  • Contrary to a Planning Condition
  • Unauthorised display of an Advertisement in a prominent location
  • Contrary to Local and National Policy
  • To a building that adversely affects the amenity of adjacent properties
  • Conversion of a building into flats
  • A High Hedge complaint
  • A breach of planning control
  • Sufficient to warrant any action by the Council

Contact Information

If you have any further questions relating to the planning enforcement process please do not hesitate to contact us using the following methods:


Phone: Customer Services 01803 861234


South Hams District/West Devon Borough Council

Follaton House

Plymouth Road