Planning Enforcement

The Council can investigate and act if someone is developing, altering or changing the use of land or buildings without permission. Some types of development, alterations, or changes of use do not need permission. If permission is needed this is called a breach of planning control.  

The Council can decide how they will investigate a breach of planning control. We will only investigate works to residential properties if you can show that the work causes a high degree of harm and any other non residential complaints where this is clear harm established. Harm could be to the environment or community. This helps us to focus resources on serious breaches where our intervention is necessary. 

We cannot act when a planning breach is anticipated. We can only act when an alleged breach is happening or has happened.  

Our Planning Enforcement Plan gives more detailed information about our approach to planning enforcement. 

Please read this page carefully before you make a report. 

What is not a breach of planning control

Some types of development or alterations do not need planning permission. If permission is not needed, it is called a permitted development. You can get guidance on the types of changes that do not need permission on the Planning Portal. 

Visit the Planning Portal interactive house

You may not be aware that planning permission has been granted. Before you report a breach, please check our online planning register. Checking before you make a report will help the council to make the best use of its enforcement resources.  If you are not sure then please email us at 

We cannot investigate civil matters.  You should seek legal advice or contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for help.  These include:

  • disputes between neighbours, for example, over a high hedge
  • boundary or land ownership disputes
  • works being carried out to party walls
  • covenant disputes.  A covenant is a restriction added to a deed or contract of sale.

Development works can cause issues with noise, smells or light pollution.  You can find out more about how the Council can help and report an issue on our statutory nuisance page.

If you need to tell us about a dangerous structure, you can find more information on our dangerous structures webpage.

If you need to tell us about a problem with a highway, you can find more information and make a report on our highways pages.

What breaches of planning control can be investigated

The most common planning breaches that we can investigate are:

  • Building or engineering work that needs but does not have planning permission 
  • Breaches of planning conditions. Planning conditions put restrictions on the way the development must be completed. You can find conditions on the planning decision notice. 
  • The change of use of land or property
  • Works that are not following the plans that were approved by the Council as part of a planning decision
  • Advertisements or signs that need, but do not have permission. You can find out more about whether permission is needed in the Government guide to advertisement control.
  • Works to trees. All trees on the Isles of Scilly are protected as a result of our Conservation Area.
  • Land or buildings in such poor condition that it affects the character of the area
  • Works to a listed building that needs but does not have permission
  • Substantial demolition works
  • The deposit of waste or mineral extraction that needs but does not have permission

Report a breach of planning control

You cannot report a breach of planning control unless you give us your name and address. This is to avoid malicious complaints. We will keep your identity safe and act within the law. 

Please speak to your neighbour first before contacting the Council. You may find that they have already found out if planning permission is needed. Involving the Council can often cause friction between neighbours. You will need to supply the following information: 

  • Your name and contact details
  • The address/location of the site of the alleged breach
  • The name and address of the person/company/developer causing a breach if you know it
  • The reason you believe there is a breach of planning control
  • The date that the alleged breach began
  • The harm the development is causing to you, or to the character of the area
  • Whether the harm is continuing or likely to get worse
  • What you would like the Council to do about the alleged breach
  • Photographs of the issue if you have them. 

You can also say whether you would like to be kept updated with the outcome of our investigation. You will need to supply an email address or phone number if you would like to be updated. 

Breaches of planning control must be made using our online form

How breaches of planning control are investigated

If it is proved that a breach of planning control has occurred, the Planning Enforcement team will try to resolve the matter initially by negotiation. The enforcement of planning law is particularly complex. It needs to strike a balance between: 

  • the rights of individuals to use or alter their property in the way they wish 
  • the need to safeguard the character and quality of neighbourhoods 
  • the need to uphold the planning policies for the local area to protect the public interest.

The investigation process is as follows:

  • If you have used our online form the receipt of your report will be acknowledged 
  • If an investigation is not necessary, we will contact you and tell you why 
  • We will check our files and the details you supply to decide if a breach of control has occurred and whether we will investigate. We may contact you for more information. 
  • We will visit the site and contact the alleged offender 
  • We will tell you when we find that a planning breach has occurred and when we decide if we are taking further action
  • The action we will take will vary. It will depend on the details of the case. We will tell you when we decide on the action we will take. You can find out more about the types of action we can take by reading our Planning Enforcement Plan.
  • Investigations can take an average of 28 weeks to complete. For complex cases where formal action is required this may be significantly longer.

Please do not contact us for an update during the investigation. The law restricts the information we can provide to you.  We will notify you of a summary of our findings upon completion of the investigation. 

How we resolve breaches of planning control

In all cases, we will assess the harm that is being caused by a breach of planning control. We will consider how the situation could be remedied without formal action. We can take formal legal action against breaches of planning control but we only do so only as a last resort.  

The planning team will check the development against local and national planning policies. They will assess whether the development causes harm. Harm that we can consider includes: 

  • harm to an amenity. This is the quality or character of an area. 
  • highway safety issues such as danger from increased traffic flow
  • loss of daylight or privacy. 

We cannot consider:

  • loss of value to neighbouring properties 
  • competition to another business 
  • loss of an individual’s view.

If we decide that no harm is being caused and the development is acceptable in planning terms the Council cannot take formal action. The investigation will be closed. This is in line with government guidance. 

Most cases are resolved through negotiation. Before we take formal enforcement action, the outcome of negotiations can be: 

  • Considering that the development could be made acceptable with some amendments. We could look to achieve the amendments by negotiation to remedy any harm that is being caused. Negotiating a solution is always quicker than taking formal action. 
  • Invite the party in breach of planning control to submit a planning application. This happens when the work could be acceptable but needs a formal decision. This is called a retrospective application. You will have the opportunity to comment on the application. Please be aware that you need to supply your name and address when you comment on an application. These details will be made public. 
  • Invite an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness. If the development has been in place for some time, the law says that it can become lawful. The period depends on the type of development. It could be four years or ten years. If a certificate is granted the works will be immune from any formal action. 

If negotiations fail, the Council will look to remedy the matter amicably by asking that works stop, and the development is removed. The Council also has legal powers to serve a notice that can order the landowner to: 

  • supply more information that will help the investigation 
  • take action to remedy the breach. This is known as an Enforcement Notice. 
  • tidy up land, with a clear timescale to comply 
  • in exceptional circumstances, ordering that work must stop.

The Council can pursue a prosecution if a notice is not followed. In the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort the Council can seek an injunction in the County Court or the High Court. 

If the breach requires a prosecution or injunction the Council will ask you to supply a formal written statement. You may be called to court to appear as a witness. 

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