Careers advice: Getting an effective planning enforcement team in place

Written by: Emma Williamson
Published on: 12 Nov 2018


Historically the planning enforcement function has been seen as the poor relation to ‘development management’ or ‘planning policy’. But in my view planning enforcement is an integral part of the development management process and function. In fact without planning enforcement we wouldn’t be able to ensure that development was built out in the way approved - which would defeat the object of planning of creating great places, altogether!

In my experience the best enforcement teams are based in development management teams rather than in other council enforcement functions. The rationale for this simple: planning enforcement work cannot be divorced from the work on determining planning applications as it is an integral part of the end-to-end development management process.

Furthermore, planning enforcement provides invaluable feedback on the practical applicability of the council’s development plan policies. Indeed it is my personal conviction that planners determining planning applications can learn a lot from planners that deal with enforcement cases, particularly in terms of the enforceability of planning conditions. A decision on whether it is expedient to take planning enforcement action should be the same decision as to whether or not to grant planning permission.

I think it is really important that everyone in my service understands the vision of the service – which is to promote growth and create great places - and realises that they all have a part to play in this.

In the council in which I am the assistant director-planning, the enforcement team is fully embedded in the development management team and decisions on taking enforcement action are taken in line with the standard statutory provisions and taking account of recent decisions on planning applications.

Enforcement planners are given opportunities to also work on determining planning applications and receive the same training opportunities as planners working on policy and applications. All the job descriptions for planners are the same, including sections for each element of planning, meaning that if the need arises and individuals want to widen their experience that they can move around the teams.

The calibre of officers doing enforcement work is critical and I do not favour the use of investigators who are not planners because ultimately it is a planning decision whether or not to take enforcement action.

Ultimately as planners we are here to serve our communities: to ensure that planning harm isn’t caused by unauthorised development or development not being built in accordance with what was granted permission and to create great places for the community to live in, work in and enjoy. Planning enforcement plays a big role in achieving this and we are starting to be more proactive in checking that major developments are being built in the way that was agreed.

Working in planning enforcement gives you an invaluable insight into how planning conditions should be drafted to be enforceable, on negotiating outcomes, discussing legal arguments with lawyers and representing the council at informal hearings, public inquiries and other legal proceedings. I recommend that all planners at least do a stint in planning enforcement in order to be well rounded, and if you do you never know, you may decide to stay for the long term!

Emma Williamson is assistant director - planning at Haringey Council