Enforcement

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The Council will only take such action where it is proportionate and appropriate to do so in the public interest, for example when permission would have been refused.

The Enforcement Plan

The Enforcement Plan below sets out how the Council will investigate and tackle reported breaches of planning control in a consistent, fair and proportionate way.

What is a breach of planning control?

A breach of planning control is:

  • carrying out development without the required planning permission, or 
  • failing to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted.

What we can investigate

The Enforcement team investigates breaches of planning control that are brought to its attention, including from its own officers, members of the public, councillors etc. We can only investigate when a breach has taken place (rather than before it has happened).

Breaches that will be investigated are:

  • Breaches of conditions or approved plans
  • Breaches of permitted development
  • Unauthorised use of land or buildings, including traveller encampments (see below)
  • Unauthorised works to a protected tree in a conservation area or covered by a Tree Preservation Order
  • Unauthorised works to a listed building or display of an advert
  • Untidy land. 

Matters investigated by others

Before making a complaint

Things to check before making a complaint about a possible planning breach:
For advice as to whether a breach has taken place please refer to our FAQs.

Making a complaint

Please be aware that we do not accept anonymous complaints unless in they relate to criminal activity in connection with Listed Buildings, Tree Preservation Orders or trees in conservation areas. You can contact your local ward councillor should you wish to raise an enforcement issue anonymously.

To process your complaints we will require your name, address, telephone and email address if you have one, as this will help us to keep you informed about progress.

To make a complaint please email planningenforcement@stalbans.gov.uk, telephone us on 01727 866100 or click here to submit an online complaint. You must supply contact details to ensure your complaint is registered.

To report unauthorised traveller incursions during evenings, weekends and bank holidays you can call our out-of-hours number 01727 811155.

What happens after I make a complaint?

Unauthorised works to protected trees or listed buildings will be prioritised. When demand for investigations is high, alleged breaches with low impact and advertisements will take longer.

When we have all the information needed, we will let you know who will be investigating. 

The site will be visited and information collected (within 2 weeks). 

If a breach is identified the person responsible will be informed. We advise them what action is required to remedy the breach (usually within 1 month of the visit).

It can take several weeks whilst we investigate, contact the landowner, negotiate, decide whether the development requires planning permission and whether permission might be granted. Some breaches need us to monitor the situation over a number of months requiring several visits.

Sometimes, we ask for the complaint to be regularised by submitting a planning application. We give a month for this to be sent to us.  Once received, new applications can be seen on our website within 2 weeks. These planning applications are then processed and considered in the same way as an application where not work has not started.

We update the complainant when a major change in the investigation occurs. Usually, this is the submission of a planning application, we decide not to take action or serve a notice (usually 4-6 months from first complaint).

Many investigations take 6 months to reach a conclusion with some taking longer. 

Unauthorised encampments

An unauthorised encampment is where any person camps (in vans, trailers or any other moveable accommodation) on land that they do not own, and/or where they do not have permission to reside.

Hertfordshire County Council has a Gypsy ServicePlease call 01707 897367 to report any suspected unauthorised encampments in the first instance.  The Gypsy Service are the first point of contact for complaints about unauthorised encampments across Hertfordshire. 

You can also report unauthorised encampments to us on 01727 866100 (9am to 5pm Monday-Friday excluding Bank Holidays) or 01727 811155 (at all other times) or by email at Travellerincursion@stalbans.gov.uk

The Police Commissioner also offers guidance here.

Does the District Council have a duty to move Gypsies/Travellers when they are camped without the landowner's permission?

No. 

The Council can take action to move Gypsies/Travellers when they are camped on District Council-owned land.

Unauthorised encampments on all other land, including Parish Council, highway / roads / verges (Hertfordshire County Council or Highways England) and privately-owned land, are the responsibility of the landowner. 

The Police produce an overview on what landowners can do if they discover an unauthorised encampment, what their legal options are and who they can turn to for advice and/or assistance. The Gypsy Service at Hertfordshire County Council can also give advice to land owners.  

Where the owner does not take action to recover the land, we will consider planning enforcement powers against the landowner. 

Can the Council remove Gypsies/Travellers from their land immediately?

No.

The Council must show that the Gypsies/Travellers are on the land without consent, make enquiries regarding the general health, welfare and children’s education, ensure that the Human Rights Act 1998 has been fully complied with, and follow a set procedure in terms of providing the Court with details of the ownership of land and the illegal encampment.

This will often involve serving an initial notice of direction requesting the group to leave the area, followed by an application to a Court to seek a removal order if the group has not voluntarily moved.  This is a process which can take up to five working days to complete. 

In all cases the site is visited and every effort made to make sure that the Gypsies/Travellers keep the site tidy and do not cause public health problems. This sometimes means that refuse collection facilities may be provided for this purpose.

How long will it take for the Gypsies/Travellers to be removed from Council land?

This will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. The Council will need to take account of the issues outlined above as well as how soon they can obtain a Court hearing date.

Can the Court refuse to grant the Council an order to move Gypsies/Travellers on?

Yes. 

If there is an unavoidable reason for the Gypsies/Travellers to stay on the site or if the Court believes that the Council have failed to make adequate enquiries regarding the general health and welfare of the Gypsies/Travellers. 

What can the Police do?

The Police will investigate criminal and Public Order offences. Trespass on land by itself is not a criminal offence. Prevention of Trespass and the removal of trespassers are the responsibilities of the landowner and not the Police. 

If you would like further information or advice from the Police about traveller incursions please call 101 - the Police non-emergency number. 

If you feel threatened or require immediate assistance ring 999.

The Police may use their powers under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to require gypsies/travellers to leave.

The Police are able to activate these powers where they are satisfied that two or more people are trespassing on the land, and the landowner has taken reasonable steps to make them leave (and they have failed to do so). In addition, one of the following also has to apply:

  • damage has been caused to the land or property, or
  • threatening / abusive / insulting behaviour has been used against the occupier, his family or agent, or 
  • the trespassers have six or more vehicles.

The Police are bound by the Human Rights Act and may be constrained to avoid using section 61 in circumstances where it would preclude welfare considerations from being applied by the civil courts.

What happens if gypsies/travellers occupy their own land?

If the Gypsies/Travellers own the land, then there is no issue of trespass and therefore powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act or Civil Procedure Rules do not apply. Instead, a breach of planning control could have occurred.

As the Local Planning Authority, it is at our discretion to take formal enforcement action. 

Date of last review: 28 December 2018