What are Planning Contraventions Notices?
Planning Contravention Notices (PCNs) are a tool used but Local Planning Authorities to requisition information from land owners, occupiers or operators. They are used in the investigation of Enforcement cases, which typically means there has been some form of complaint or allegation that works or land uses are taking place without planning permission.
There are other tools that might be used, such as a Requisition for Information Notice issued under Section 330 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which is a general information gathering tool used by Local Planning Authorities with pre-set and specific questions. A Section 330 requisition notice might also be used by Policy making teams to research potential development sites, to find out who owns them so they can be engaged in the plan making process. A PCN is a more versatile than a Section 330 Notice for planning enforcement investigations however, as it allows for more specific and bespoke requests for information related to the alleged breach of planning control.
Why are Planning Contravention Notices Issued?
A PCN is issued under Section 171C of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) when the Council considers that a Breach of Planning Control might exist (as defined by Section 171A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)) and they think they require more information to inform their consideration of the investigation. This means that there is an open investigation, usually opened in response to a complaint from a member of the public, that works or operations are being undertaken without planning permission.
The response to a PCN is used to help the Local Planning Authority consider whether a breach of planning control has ‘actually’ occurred, and if so, to help them decide whether it’s expedient (or necessary) for formal enforcement action to require the cessation of an unauthorised land use, or the removal of unauthorised building works. A PCN response should include the names of all interested land owners and occupiers, so the Council knows who to issue formal enforcement notices on if they decide that is the appropriate next step. Receiving a PCN, is usually a good indication therefore, that the Local Planning Authority is considering taking formal enforcement action.
What to do with a Planning Contravention Notice
Firstly, DO NOT ignore a Planning Contravention Notice! as already explained, a written response is required by Section 171C of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 (as amended), and the penalties for offences connected with not complying with the requirements of a PCN, are set out in Section 171D of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 (as amended). Not replying can incur (following prosecution) fines of up to £1,000.00; and, knowingly or recklessly providing misinformation when replying to a PCN can incur (following prosecution) a fine of up to £5,000.00.
The PCN will include a schedule of questions that those served with the PCN are required to provide a written response within 21 days. Sometimes, the questions in the PCN might actually require quite a lot of information, or information those served with the PCN don’t have immediate access to – or would need to be generated and produced. Sometimes, if that information is going to take longer than 21 days to prepare it would be worth trying to open dialogue with the Council to discuss the format of the information requested – or if it might not actually be that helpful to ask if it really necessary.
Not responding to a PCN, or providing misinformation in response to a PCN, can also have serious consequence on future appeals against any enforcement action – which if you later try and argue could result in further costs applications being awarded against you through the enforcement appeals process.
Responding to a PCN, can be really useful opportunity to provide information and enter into negotiation with the Enforcement Team at the Local Planning Authority. Any information provided in response to a PCN, must be considered by the enforcement team when they’re considering what to do next.
There is no regulatory requirement for the Local Planning Authority to consider the PCN response within any particular timescale (sometimes taking months or years), leaving you with the threat of enforcement action hanging over you for often indefinite periods of time. If this is occurring, or you would like to try and resolve the situation sooner, it might be helpful to prepare and submit for consideration either a Planning Application, or a Certificate of Existing Lawful Use or Development to trigger statutory consideration of the planning arguments, allowing you some certainty over the timing of any decisions to be made bye the Local Planning Authority.
As well as contacting ET Planning for support, there are other resources available to help understand more about the wider enforcement process on the Governments Planning Practice Guidance. This is geared more towards guiding Local Planning Authorities on how to use the tools available to them, but can help in understanding the process.
If you’d like more professional support in assisting you with responding to a PCN and preparing a strategy on how to resolve an enforcement disputes, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or complete the contact form below to see how ET Planning can help you!