Breach of planning control

Protecting the environment

South Cambridgeshire is an attractive area. Large parts of the district are within the Green Belt and Areas of Best Landscape. Most villages contain listed buildings and conservation areas. There are, however, many development pressures. The economic success of the region has created a strong desire for people to want to live and work here. This, in turn, creates a demand for new buildings or uses of land, which may not always be acceptable.

The Council takes great care in balancing the need to protect the environment while promoting growth and investment. In the light of growing public concern, it is recognised that all development should be properly controlled.

The Council can take enforcement action against development which does not have the necessary planning, or other permission. This includes the erection of buildings and uses of land as well as works to trees and the display of signs. It can also enforce against non-compliance with conditions attached to planning permissions.

The Council has a general discretion, which allows it to take enforcement action only when it considers it 'expedient' to do so. Expedient means only when it is appropriate given the nature and extent of the breach of planning control.

We will therefore need to decide the extent to which public amenity or the use of land and buildings are harmed. This means that we will not always decide to take action, although quick and effective action will be taken where it is plainly necessary.

The process of enforcement action is often complex. This means there can be some delay in taking enforcement action. We aim to reduce the undesirable effects of unauthorised development where possible, by taking action in a controlled and organised manner.

Our commitment

The Council's adopted policy on enforcement is:

  • We take breaches of planning control seriously and will undertake to investigate all complaints.
  • We will aim to remedy the undesirable effects of all unauthorised development.
  • Our approach to enforcement will be thorough, fair, consistent, courteous and efficient. We will pay due regard to issues affecting human rights.
  • We will keep all complainants and Parish Councils informed. They will be advised of any intended action and the outcome of that action.
  • We will negotiate an acceptable solution with all parties where this is appropriate before taking formal enforcement action.
  • In order to safeguard public amenity as much as possible, we will deal with cases on a priority basis as set out below.
  • We will deal with breaches of planning control in a manner which reflects the degree of harm which is, or is likely to be, caused.
  • We will set realistic targets for implementing the process to resolve breaches of control, but may have to adopt a flexible approach.
  • We will consider deferring enforcement action whilst an invited application to remedy a breach of planning control is considered. Action will be taken, however, when a serious harm to public amenity is being caused.

Our priorities

We will investigate all complaints as quickly as possible. It is important, however, that those breaches of planning control, which are considered more serious than others, are dealt with more urgently.

An initial site visit will normally be undertaken within five working days of receipt or referral of a complaint. Where a full investigation is necessary, cases will be dealt with on a priority basis as follows:

Priority Investigate
and assess
 Type of Breach
HIGH Immediate i.e. normally the same day Works which are irreversible or irreplaceable (e.g. damage to, or loss of, listed buildings and protected trees, where highways issues could endanger life)
MEDIUM Within 10 working days of the initial site visit Activities that cause harm (e.g. adverse affects on residential amenity and conservation areas, breaches of conditions)
LOW Within 15 working days of the initial site visit Development which may cause some harm but could be made acceptable by way of conditions (e.g. control on hours of use, parking)

What you can do/how to complain

We welcome involvement from individuals, Councillors, and Parish Councils at all stages of the enforcement process. We rely on the public to help us identify breaches of planning control.

It is helpful when reporting a case for you to fill out our online report a breach of planning conditions form. Please give us as much information as you can (e.g. the exact address, when activities started, names, addresses and telephone numbers of owners and occupiers or other persons responsible). This helps us respond quickly and effectively.

It may be necessary for you to give evidence at hearings or inquiries to support the Council's action. You may be asked to monitor and record activities to strengthen a case against an unauthorised use.

What we will do

If you report a breach of planning control in writing, you will be sent an acknowledgement within two working days. This will include details of who is dealing with your complaint and how to contact them.

The investigating officer will undertake an initial site visit to confirm the nature and extent of the complaint. If the Council considers that some form of enforcement action is needed, there are several options available. The type of action will depend on the nature of the problem. In all cases, we aim to assess whether a breach of control has occurred within 15 working days of carrying out an initial site visit.

We aim to decide which formal procedures are necessary within 28 working days of carrying out the initial site visit. You will be advised of what action we intend to take/have taken and why.

Enforcement action will be taken where appropriate with regard to the law; the Council's adopted policies and any other material planning considerations. In some instances a planning application may be invited so that otherwise acceptable development may be regularised. Where permission is likely to be refused, we will negotiate to stop or remedy the harmful effects of the development. We will take formal action, however, where this cannot be achieved promptly.

We are committed to a review of our enforcement policy and the service we provide. We would welcome your comments on any aspect of our policy and procedures; our contact details are at the end of this page.


All reports/complaints generated are treated in the strictest confidence. However, it may be necessary for complainants to give evidence at a hearing or enquiry to support any action the Council may decide to implement. Your personal details will always remain confidential unless previously advised. The exception to this is where the complaint results in a criminal case. Criminal cases are, for information, very rare within South Cambridgeshire District Council.

Please note that the law relating to enforcement is extremely complex. This website gives only a general guide and should not be relied upon, or taken to be an interpretation of the law. The Council has adopted its own technical guide which contains detailed procedures for enforcement. This forms the basis for all investigations into enforcement action and the Council will have regard to this in all cases.

For further information or advice, contact the Enforcement team: 03450 455 215, Email:

Contact Details