Wokingham Borough Council is committed to protecting the borough and ensuring development is of the highest quality and located in the right places.
Planning enforcement is the council’s key tool for protecting our towns and villages, countryside and open spaces, and is a high priority for the Council. The council has this year put more resources into planning enforcement to ‘fight the battle’ and it’s paying off.
We have visited hundreds of sites across the borough this year and have resolved over 600 cases. The number of enforcement notices issued has nearly tripled from 12 in 2019 to 35 so far in 2020. Along with this has come a successful record of winning enforcement appeals.
“We know that protecting the borough is something our residents will always fight hard for, and we’ve put more resources into planning enforcement to do just that. The numbers speak for themselves. It’s great to see the enhanced team working on breaches of planning control and serving enforcement notices when needed. We can’t do it alone though – we need our residents to be our eyes and ears and keep reporting what they see,” said Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement.
The council has recently been successful enforcing against unauthorised development in the countryside at The Coombes woodland, following decisions from the Planning Inspectorate that supported the council in servicing enforcement notices.
This popular area of countryside is a designated ancient woodland and as well as having a Tree Preservation Order, it is also an important local geological and wildlife site. Since 2018 it has seen unauthorised development with small plots marketed as potential development sites and sold at auction – threatening to destroy its special and unique character.
“Around 90% of our enforcement notices end up at appeal and these appeals in The Coombes have been important successes for us. We hope the Planning Inspectorate continues to support us to protect sensitive areas like this across the borough,” added Cllr Wayne Smith.
What are we doing to protect the borough?
Each year around 700 suspected planning breaches are reported to the council and investigated by a team of officers. To manage this we have directed more resources into this area which we know is important to our residents.
Only approximately 50 percent of cases reported to us are breaches of planning control. When we do have a breach, we take a pragmatic approach to try and help the breach become compliant by either having the breach removed or by having the person involved submit a planning application. It is only for the remaining unacceptable breaches where the council will serve enforcement notices.
Not afraid to get tough when it counts – when it’s unacceptable and there is real harm caused -- the council takes a zero tolerance approach by issuing an enforcement notice. Many of these notices are appealed to the national Planning Inspectorate. The council has a £630,000 ‘fighting fund’, approved last year, to help defend these notices at appeal but this does cause delay in being able to address the breaches. If an enforcement notice is served and is not complied with, this can lead to court action and fines.
What can you do?
Be our eyes and ears: Be on the lookout while you are out and about. It could be on a walk down the local footpath in the countryside that you will see something that should not be there.
Do your research: Planning rules can often be full of confusing jargon, but there are places you can look to find out whether something you see is appropriate or unauthorised.
Report it: If you think there has been a planning breach then report it via the website.
What happens next?
The investigation: Each report is assigned to a planning enforcement officer to investigate. If there is no planning breach then the case will be closed or passed to another team if for example it is something such as a highway matter that needs to be dealt with.
If there is a breach: The case can either be negotiated to get an acceptable outcome, such as through retrospective planning permission, or it may be an unacceptable level of harm caused and require an enforcement notice to be served.
Find out more about planning enforcement by going to our website www.wokingham.gov.uk and searching ‘planning enforcement’.
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