Planning breach investigation

All breach of planning control complaints are received and ordered by priority of type of breach to investigate.

There are key considerations in the investigation of an alleged planning breach.


When an enforcement investigation identifies that an unauthorised development has taken place, we have to decide if it is expedient to pursue the matter.

The planning team must consider if the development in question is unacceptable in planning terms and that planning permission would not be granted.

Enforcement action must be proportionate to and commensurate with the breach of planning control to which it relates to.

For example, if it is not expedient to pursue minor or technical breaches which cause no planning harm or where unauthorised development is acceptable in planning terms, enforcement action may not be needed.

Harmful breaches of planning control however, are addressed by appropriate means.

All breach of planning control complaints are received and ordered by priority of type of breach to investigate.

  • Alleged unauthorised demolition or alteration of Listed Buildings
  • unauthorised demolition or alteration of buildings in Conservation Areas
  • unauthorised works to trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order or within a Conservation Area
  • alleged unauthorised removal of protected hedgerows.
  • other alleged breaches of planning control which by reason of their nature or extent require urgent investigation.
  • Other alleged harmful unauthorised works effecting Listed Buildings or in Conservation areas including the display of advertisements.

Alleged unauthorised activities including:

  • building or other works
  • changes of use of land or buildings
  • variations of planning permissions
  • breaches of conditions
  • which do not accord with planning policies; cause significant planning harm or are seriously detrimental to visual or residential amenity or highway safety
  • alleged poor condition of land or buildings which seriously impacts upon the visual amenities of the surrounding area.
  • Other alleged building works, including works of a minor nature, for example small domestic structures such as sheds and greenhouses; boundary structures; satellite dishes.
  • alleged changes of use of land and buildings.
  • alleged variations of planning permissions and breaches of conditions.
  • the alleged display of other advertisements.
  • In certain circumstance anonymous complaints
  • issues within the adopted highway including advertisements: notifiers will be directed to the Highways Team
  • repeat complaints concerning matters which have previously been concluded

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

Investigation timescales
The speed with which an investigation can be undertaken varies between straightforward cases which can often be concluded quickly and more complex investigations which can take considerably longer.

Investigation request

It's helpful when reporting a case that you complete out our online (report a breach of planning control) 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, identified harm). This helps us respond quickly and effectively.

Upon receipt of an investigation request
We will check that the issue in question is a planning matter.
If it isn’t we will tell you as quickly as possible and where appropriate forward the concern onto another relevant Council team or external organisation.

At this stage, we may also request further information from you to help with the investigation, for example keeping a record of activity in respect of the use of land or buildings over an appropriate period.

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.

Before investigation
Before we begin an investigation, we will also ask you to provide your name and contact details in confidence so that we can update you on progress.
Your details will remain confidential at all times during the initial investigation*.

This is because we need to ensure that we use our resources as effectively as possible and in order to prevent the investigation of spurious issues and anonymous complaints are not usually investigated.

If you report a breach of planning control, you will be sent an acknowledgement or contacted within five 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 and planning legislation under the Town & Country Planning Act, the Council's adopted policies and any other material planning considerations.

In some instances a retrospective 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.

There are a number of potential outcomes of an enforcement investigation which are principally;

  • Where there is no breach of planning control or a minor breach: no further action will be taken
  • it is considered that planning permission would be likely to be granted for the unauthorised development, we will request that an application is made. However, if no such application is submitted, no further action will be taken.
  • there is a breach of planning control which is unacceptable in planning terms, we will offer the responsible parties one opportunity to resolve the matter voluntarily. Where the matter is not satisfactorily resolved by that means, if it is expedient to do so, formal enforcement action will be taken.

* Where an investigation results in enforcement action being taken which is the subject of an appeal or prosecution, it is sometimes necessary for 3rd party details to be disclosed.

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

NOTE: 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.

We've adopted our 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: enforcement@scambs.gov.uk

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