Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans for our places and open spaces

Overview of planning enforcement

Enforcement action can relate to unauthorised building works, unauthorised changes of use, unauthorised advertisements, non-compliance with conditions on an existing planning permission and the unauthorised felling of protected trees.

It is not a criminal offence to carry out works or change the use of land or buildings without planning permission. If it is found that work has been carried out without planning permission, the Council will give the individual the opportunity to:

  • correct the situation
  • or apply for retrospective planning permission
  • if serious harm is being caused, the Council will take firm action quickly

Enforcing compliance with planning control can be both time consuming and complex. In most cases Stockton Borough Council will try to negotiate compliance rather than pursue formal action as in line with the Enforcement Concordat, which the Council signed up to on 5th March 1998.

However, in those cases where serious environmental damage or serious harm to the amenities of neighbouring residents is taking place, or where damage is being caused to protected trees and / or listed buildings, then we will use the full range of powers available to us to bring the matter speedily under control.

The Council can only use its enforcement powers effectively if there is sufficient evidence available to demonstrate clearly that a breach of planning and / or listed building control has occurred and it is considered expedient to take legal action.

Planning Enforcement Officers also follow the general guidelines set out under Stockton Borough Council's Regulatory Services Enforcement Policy and Stockton on Tees Planning Division Development Control Charter.


What is not covered under the current planning legislation

The Planning Enforcement Section cannot deal with the following issues:

  • Neighbour disputes. (You will need to seek your own legal advice)
  • Land boundaries or ownership disputes. (You need to seek your own legal advice)
  • Deeds of covenant issues. (You need to seek your own legal advice)
  • Works to party walls. (You will need to seek your own legal advice)
  • Use of / development on highways or pavements. (This falls under highway legislation, please contact either the police or SBC Care For Your Area)
  • Dangerous structures. (This falls under the Buildings Act please contact the Head of Engineering & Transportation)
  • Parking of commercial vehicles on the highway, even in residential areas. (If causing an obstruction it is a police matter)
  • Parking a caravan within the residential boundary of a property provided that it is not being used as permanent living accommodation.


What happens after I have made my complaint?

On receipt of a complaint and after checking the planning history of the site, an assessment is made as to whether it is a planning issue and an acknowledgement letter is sent advising who is dealing with your case with a contact telephone number within 5 working days of receipt of your complaint.

An initial site visit will be made in response to your complaint within 10 working days of receipt of a complaint and you will be advised within 28 working days as to how the Council intends to deal with the matter, although at this stage we may not be able to say precisely what action we can take.

We will investigate all complaints about breaches of planning and listed building control, however they are received. Each complaint is recorded and given a reference number. High priority will be assigned to cases involving unauthorised works to protected trees and listed buildings, which may result in immediate enforcement action being taken.

All complaints will be treated in confidence. The identity of the complainant will not be revealed unless consent is given to do so. For this reason, our enforcement files are not available for public inspection.

Anonymous complaints will receive a lower priority, as we will be unable to contact the complainant for further information, which may be needed to assist our enquiries.

All complainants will be advised of the outcome of our investigations and what action, if any, the Council proposes to take to remedy the breach. In those circumstances where the Council does not take enforcement action, an explanation will be provided.

We will advise those responsible for a breach of planning control that it is open to them to try and regularise the matter through either the taking of remedial steps or the submission of a retrospective planning application. In such circumstances, it will be made clear that the offer to submit a retrospective planning application is made without prejudice to any final decision the Council may take in the matter.

We will normally suspend enforcement proceedings whilst considering a valid retrospective planning application or appeal unless there are good reasons not to.

If appropriate, we will try to suggest an alternative site where a use could perhaps be more appropriately located.

We will work together with our internal and external partners to ensure that joint investigations are undertaken where it is known that a suspected breach may involve other regulatory agencies.

We will pass on complaints, which fall within the province of other Stockton Borough Council departments.

We will liaise with the Council's Building Control Service in monitoring new developments and checking compliance with planning conditions imposed on planning permissions where the Council has a Building Control presence on site.


What matters need to be considered before action is taken?

The Enforcement Section has to consider a number of questions before being in a position to recommend a particular course of action.

The sequence of events is usually as follows:

Is the matter controllable under planning legislation?

Many minor works, including alterations to buildings, small extensions to dwellings, outbuildings up to certain limits, some "changes of use" and many advertisement signs do not require consent from the Council. If this proves to be the case, no action can be taken.

Has permission already been given?

Most planning permissions can be taken up at any time within 5 years of being granted. Once partially implemented, there may be no time limit on its final completion. So if you see works taking place, but cannot recall a recent planning application, the activities are not necessarily unauthorised. On receipt of a written complaint, the enforcement officer will check that the development has consent and is being carried out in accordance with the approved plans and conditions. Is the matter serious enough to warrant action?

Is the matter serious enough to warrant action?

In considering whether enforcement action is appropriate the decisive issue for us will be whether the breach of planning control is causing local problems. Enforcement action will not normally be initiated where a trivial or technical breach of planning control has occurred which causes no general harm. The Council will not take enforcement action solely to regularise an acceptable development.

Where permission has not been granted, is the matter acceptable in planning terms?

To commence building works or make a change of use without planning permission is not in itself an offence. Local authorities must consider an unauthorised development in exactly the same way as a planning application and can ask for a planning application to be submitted to try and regularise the situation. This is the most common approach, if the activity or building is potentially acceptable. Conditions can be imposed on any permission granted in order to control the development; for example, the opening hours of a business. If an application is submitted complainants will be consulted on the application.Enforcement action will not normally be initiated whilst the application is prepared and under consideration. Enforcement action will not be taken simply to remedy the absence of a planning application.

If the matter is unacceptable, what is the most appropriate action to take?

Local authorities have a wide range of options from which to choose and which one(s) will be used will depend on the nature of the case. The Council's priorities are to protect the local area, safeguard the environment generally and uphold local planning policy in the most effective way. The integrity of the planning system depends on taking effective enforcement action where it is necessary and there is clear harm or nuisance.

How do we take formal action?

If further action is taken we will notify anyone who informed us of the matter and ask if they wish to submit additional information or appear at an inquiry or hearing, to support the Council's case. We will help you with this. The strength of local support can be crucial to the Council's success. Notifying the complainant and offender that enforcement action is being considered also allows a further chance for a negotiated settlement.

A report to Planning Committee or by Senior Officers using the Councils delegated powers will be drafted outlining the case and requesting enforcement action to be authorised if it is expedient to do so. If agreed we notify interested parties of the decision and begin preparing the formal notices in consultation with the Council's Legal Service.

Once all parties with a legal interest in the site have been identified the Council's Legal Service serve the notices.

The notice will specify the steps that need to be undertaken within an appropriate timescale. In the case of unauthorised works to listed buildings and/or to protected trees, the Council can proceed to instigate prosecution proceedings without having to first serve an Enforcement Notice (as such unauthorised works are illegal and represent a criminal offence).


What happens after notices are served?

The recipient of a notice or offender will either:

  • Comply with the notice within the specified timescale (in which case the matter is closed); or
  • Contest the notice by way of an appeal to the Secretary of State or challenge in a court of law, where this is appropriate.

Hearing a case on appeal will take time and can often delay proceedings, particularly if a public inquiry has to be arranged.

An Inspector will be appointed by the Planning Inspectorate to determine the appeal. The Inspector can either dismiss the appeal and uphold the Notice, in full or with modifications, or uphold the appeal and dismiss the Enforcement Notice.

If the appeal is dismissed the Enforcement Notice, with or without modifications, will come into force on a date specified by the Inspector and must be complied with within timescales specified in the notice. If the notice is not complied with the owner of the land and any person upon whom the notice is served commits an offence and may be prosecuted.

If the appeal is successful the notice will no longer be of any effect and planning permission is deemed to be granted.

The decision of the Inspector can be appealed by the local planning authority or the appellant of the enforcement notice appeal.

If the enforcement notice is not appealed and not complied with the owner of the land and any person on whom the notice is served commits an offence and may be prosecuted by the local planning authority.

The maximum fine for non-compliance of a valid Enforcement Notice, which can be imposed by the Magistrates Court, is £20,000. The fine, which can be imposed by the Crown Court, is unlimited.

We will try to keep complainants advised of progress at regular intervals during these proceedings.

Why can enforcement action take so long?

Many of the reasons have been explained above but it is often frustrating to complainants that despite contacting the Council, the activity, which is causing concern, still persists. Some of the factors, which can result in apparently slow progress, include:

  • The gathering of satisfactory robust evidence to make a case if challenged on appeal or through the courts.
  • Continuing negotiation to try to resolve the matter with the offender without pursuing formal action.
  • Consideration of a retrospective application seeking to remedy the matter.
  • Awaiting determination of an appeal against a refusal of a planning application or against formal notices.
  • Government guidance on how and when to take enforcement action.



It should not be forgotten that enforcement action is a discretionary power.

The advice from central government in summary is as follows:

The decisive issue for the Council should be whether the breach of control would unacceptably affect amenity or the existing use of land and buildings which merit protection in the public interest; enforcement action should always be commensurate with the breach of planning control to which it relates.

Enforcement action should not be taken solely to 'regularise' development which is acceptable on its planning merits but for which permission has not been sought; if a breach of control is causing serious harm to public amenity, the Council should normally take vigorous action."

Many courses of formal action are also dependant upon how long the use or development has been carried out.


Problems with trees or high hedges

Most trees and hedges that are well looked after can be an ideal garden boundary but sometimes things get out of hand and can cause disputes between neighbours.

We may be able to help:

  • Contact our Planning Enforcement team on telephone: or 01642 526058 or 526449 or 52 6386  or email: [email protected] 
  • If you have a general enquiry regarding a Tree Preservation Order or trees in a conservation area please contact the council’s planning technicians on 01642 526197 or 01642 528716.