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Report unauthorised development

Find out how to report building works that don't have planning permission

We will investigate all the complaints we receive about unauthorised development. This includes:  

  • building works 
  • changes in the use of buildings or land 
  • the appearance of building or land 
  • advertisements 
  • works to Listed Buildings 
  • works to protected trees 

We have a discretionary power to take enforcement action having regard to: 

  • the merits of each case 
  • the aims and objectives of the local development plan and other legislation 
  • whether it is expedient (necessary) or in the public interest to do so in respect of the above factors 

We receive over 300 complaints each year. Many of these relate to concerns about such development. Many complaints go no further as there is planning permission, or it was not required. Sometimes complaints take a long time to investigate as they become complicated. 

Planning Enforcement Policy This policy sets out our approach to investigating unauthorised development. 

Make a report 

You can report a planning breach to us online. You must provide your name and address. We treat all complaints in the strictest confidence. We do not reveal the source, although in some situations it may well be clear. If we decide prosecution is necessary, we may need to rely on the complainant as a witness. 

Report a breach of planning

What happens next 

When we receive the complaint we log it and allocate it to an investigation officer. The officer will then decide if there is a breach of planning control based on the planning history. If there is a breach of the site we will normally visit as soon as possible to establish the facts. We may also need to view the site from the complainant’s address. We will do this as discreetly as possible. 

Once we establish the facts we will decide whether there is a breach of planning control. If there is a breach, we will explain what actions need to be taken to try and resolve the matter. Usually we do this in consultation with one of the senior planning officers so we can make a balanced judgement.  

It may be that changes to the works could overcome our objections. The other option could be submitting a retrospective planning application. National advice suggests these solutions. They allow us to impose conditions to improve the situation. It may also be that a breach is occurring but we do not consider that enforcement action would be necessary or in the public interest. As such we would take no further action. Either way, we notify all parties of what the outcome is. 

What happens if enforcement action is necessary 

We have powers to issue an Enforcement Notice if it is necessary to do so. In the case of unauthorised building works it may need some changes, or complete demolition. We would serve such a Notice on all parties with a legal interest in the land. It would explain:  

  • which site the Notice relates to 
  • what the alleged breach is 
  • actions needed to comply 
  • the date by which actions need to be complete 

If a valid Enforcement Notice is not complied with by its effective date it is a criminal offence. The offender can be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court with a fine of up to £20,000.00. If it goes before a Crown Court, the fine can be an unlimited amount. Further failure to comply with the Notice can incur a daily fine. In some cases we will enter the land and carry out the required works. We will then invoice the landowner for the works. 

During the process of buying or selling property a land search will show breaches of a formal Notice. This may affect the saleability of the property or its value until it is complied with. 

There is a right of appeal against the Notice provided: 

Enforcement Appeals are quite complex by their nature. The appeal process can take nearly a year to reach a decision. Compliance with a Notice is held in abeyance whilst an appeal is underway. The Planning Inspectorate will issue a decision letter at the end of the appeal process confirming the final outcome. That decision will either: 

  • allow the appeal and quash the Notice 
  • discuss the appeal and uphold the Notice 

Planning Enforcement Policy This policy sets out our approach to investigating unauthorised development.  

Can I be involved in the appeal process 

The appeals process for Enforcement Notices can take quite a long time. Anyone served a Notice has a period of time in which to lodge an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate. They usually need to lodge a valid appeal within a month of receiving the Enforcement Notice. 

We notify anyone who contacted us about the breach, as well as any other relevant person. There is a strict timetable to make further representations to the Planning Inspectorate. You can view the appeal files at our offices. 

The three ways to determine an appeal  

1. The first is the least formal by way of written representations.  

2. The second is an informal hearing. This is where an Inspector chairs a meeting between: 

    • the appellant 
    • Torbay Council 
    • anyone else can participate at the discretion of the Inspector 

3. The third and most formal method is by means of a Public Inquiry. This is usually for complex appeals where evidence needs to be given under oath. It is similar to court room proceedings. 

All appeals are subject of a site visit by the inspector usually accompanied by the parties. 

The Planning Inspectorate will then issue a decision letter. 

I’m not sure if I need planning permission 

It is always best to check with us beforehand if you are unsure whether you need permission. Do not always rely on the advice of builders or friends. Each property can be completely different and there are many factors to consider. 

One way to check if you need permission is to submit an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness for a Proposed Use or Development. We would consider the information you submit and let you know the decision. Such a document, if granted, would give you, or prospective purchasers, peace of mind. 

If you would like to contact the Investigation Team please telephone 01803 207802. 

Further guidance 

Further information on planning appeals:  

Further information on enforcement appeals: