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UK planning regulations are in place to control the development and use of land and buildings in the public interest.

We are responsible for planning within the National Park and have agreed unique partnerships with the Local Authorities operating within the National Park boundaries.  For seven of these we deal directly with planning enforcement issues. The other seven authorities deal with enforcement issues on our behalf.

Find out which authority will deal with your enforcement complaint.

Our role is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the South Downs National Park. As the planning authority for the National Park we expect land owners and developers to comply with planning laws and not carry out development without the necessary planning permission. We are committed to ensuring that planning, and other environmental controls are enforced and where consent is granted, approved plans and conditions are followed.

The South Downs Enforcement Guide explains how complaints are investigated, prioritised and what action we can take when planning permission is breached.  (The Enforcement Guide is currently being updated and will be available from April 1 2017).

In the majority of cases breaches in planning can be fixed through negotiation and this will be our first aim. However there are a range of enforcement powers which we can use if necessary.

Planning enforcement is divided into four areas:

  1. Development (building, engineering and mining operations; and material change of use of buildings/land)
  2. Advertisements
  3. Listed Buildings (including conservation area)
  4. Natural Environment (tree preservation order consents and all trees within conservation areas)

Advertisements, listed buildings and protected trees all carry a criminal liability and are therefore a criminal offence.

Unauthorised development is not a criminal offence, but a breach of planning control. However, if negotiation has failed; a notice has been issued, taken effect and its requirements have not been complied with it then becomes a criminal offence. At this point we are able to prosecute and take the issue to court.

Priorities for the National Park Authority

Breaches of planning can be very upsetting for individuals and communities but it is unfortunately not possible to investigate every planning complaint with the same priority and intensity. We have to direct our resources to breaches that cause the greatest planning harm. For example the potential permanent damage to a historic listed building should be given greater priority than a new shed in a residential garden.

Our priorities are set out below, based on criteria where damage is potentially: irreversible and prosecutable (Priority 1); serious (Priority 2); or non-serious (Priority 3).

Priority 1:

  • Works to/ harm to/ damage to designated heritage asset (listed buildings, demolition in a conservation area, scheduled monuments and registered parks and gardens); or
  • Work to/ felling/ damage trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders or trees in a Conservation Area.

Priority 2:

  • Stationing a new residential caravans in the countryside;
  • Starting work on site without discharging pre-commencement conditions;
  • Works resulting in landscape harm to sensitive designations; or
  • Works likely to be harmful to public health or compromise highway safety.

Priority 3:

  • Other breaches of planning control;
  • Display of advertisements; or
  • Untidy land.

Using our discretion

Enforcement action should always be appropriate to the breach of planning control to which it relates and we are not automatically required to take action where there has been a breach.

Enforcement action can only take place where there is planning harm and to determine this we have to consider whether planning permission would have been granted if a planning application had been submitted before the work started. We start by considering whether or not development has occurred and then consider the local planning policies. If the development clearly meets these we encourage the individual or organisation in breach to submit a retrospective application to regularise the development. When the fit with local policies is less clear, and sometimes even when there is evidence that some harm has occurred, we may still ask for a retrospective planning application to help evaluate the harm and because it may be possible to impose conditions through planning consent to mitigate the harm. If no application comes forward we will still make an assessment of the harm and judge whether it is appropriate to take further action.

It is often inappropriate to take formal enforcement action against trivial or technical breaches of control which causes no harm. But if there is demonstrable harm which cannot be mitigated by conditions in retrospective planning permission we can issue an enforcement notice. If there is serious irreversible harm we will take action requiring an immediate end to the breach.

What is a breach of planning control?

A breach of planning control is defined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as ‘the carrying out of a development without the required planning permission, or failure to comply with any condition or limitation subject to which planning permission has been granted’.

Breaches may include:

  • Unauthorised erection of a structure
  • Development not in accordance with approved plans
  • Material change of use of building or land
  • Unauthorised works to trees protected by a tree preservation order or in a conservation area
  • Carrying out works to a listed building without listed building consent
  • Unauthorised demolition in a conservation area
  • Failure to comply with the conditions attached to a planning permission
  • Failure to properly maintain land so that it affects the public amenity of the area
  • Displaying a sign or advertisement without advertisement consent

Breaches are unlikely to include:

  • Parking of commercial vehicles in residential areas or on grass verges
  • Operating a business from home where the residential use remains the primary use and there is no adverse impact on residential amenity
  • Clearance of land, i.e. undergrowth and bushes
  • Parking of a caravan within the curtilage of a residential property provided that it is stored, or used as an extra bedroom, and not used as a separate, self-contained residential unit.
  • Obstruction of a highway or right of way
  • Boundary disputes (civil matter)
  • Deeds and covenants (civil matter)
  • Where development is ‘permitted development’

We often coordinate our investigations into breaches with other services so that any action is carried out under the most appropriate legislation. This can include liaison with other agencies where appropriate.

Permitted development

Permitted development are limited forms of development which can be carried out without the need to make an application to a local planning authority.

From time to time the Government issues or amends the list of developments that are permitted. The current lists are set out in the

  • Town and Country (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015
  • The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes Order) 1987 (amended)
  • The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulation 2007(Amended)

Permitted development currently includes many minor building works, such as alterations and extensions to houses and commercial buildings; temporary uses such as camping for 28 days or motor racing for 14 days; changes of use from pubs to shops or upper floors of shops to residential, ‘and un-illuminated signs’.

Further information on permitted development can be found on the National Planning Policy Framework website.

Immunity from enforcement

Current legislation allows many works or activities to become lawful if they have been taking place/completed for a long-time. The table below sets out timescales at which point development becomes immune from any enforcement action:

Activity Immune After
Operational development Substantially completed for 4 years or more
Change of use of a building to a single dwelling house Continuous occupation for 4 years or more
Change of use Continuous occupation at the same intensity for 10 years or more
Breach of a condition on a planning permission Continuous non compliance for 10 years or more
Advertisements Continuous display for 10 years or more