It stands as a reminder of the level of care required when reviewing enforcement notices.
The Council served an enforcement notice requesting the demolition of the appellant’s single storey side extension and single and two storey rear extension, which had been built without planning permission. However, the enforcement notice read that the appellant must demolish the “two storey side extension and single storey rear extension”.
The appellant argued that it was impossible to comply with the enforcement notice as no such extensions existed. The court found in the appellant’s favour. It also confirmed that the Secretary of State could not have corrected the defective notice using powers under Section 176(1) Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The power to correct a misdescription in an enforcement notice is subject to the correction not causing injustice to the appellant.
Planning enforcement notices are the most common tool used by local planning authorities to remedy a breach of planning control. It is crucial that enforcement notices contain an accurate description both of the breach and the steps required to remedy it. Those in breach commit an offence and are liable for an unlimited fine. With such serious consequences, the Secretary of State will not come to the aid of local authorities which fail to exercise their enforcement powers with due care.
For minor breaches the time and cost of challenging an enforcement notice may be disproportionate, so developers will have little concern over whether the notice is potentially defective. However, fundamental planning breaches which require the partial or total demolition of a development may threaten the overall viability of a scheme. In these circumstances it is inevitable that the enforcement notice itself will face scrutiny. Guidance is available from central government on how to appeal an enforcement notice, and from the Planning Inspectorate about the procedural steps of an appeal. This guidance should always be checked prior to making an appeal, so that the level of involvement and timescales are known well in advance.