Planning Portal

PPS 9: The Enforcement of Planning Control
Unauthorised Development and Enforcement: Introduction

1.1 The policy context for the planning system in Northern Ireland is set out in PPS 1 ‘General Principles’. This states that the town and country planning system exists to regulate the development and use of land in the public interest. The Department has the primary responsibility for determining whether proposed development should be granted planning permission and for taking whatever action may be necessary for the enforcement of planning controls.
1.2 Planning procedures and decisions need to command respect, accordingly the Department’s key objectives for planning enforcement are:
  • to bring unauthorised activity under control;
  • to remedy the undesirable effects of unauthorised development, including where necessary the removal or cessation of unacceptable development; and
  • to take legal action, where necessary, against those who ignore or flout planning legislation.
1.3 It is essential that the Department strives to secure these objectives, otherwise the credibility and integrity of the planning system will be undermined.
1.4 The main enforcement powers available to the Department are contained within the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘1991 Planning Order’). These powers include the authority to:
  • issue a notice requiring the submission of a planning application (Article 23). Where such a notice is served it is an offence not to make a planning application within the period specified.
  • issue an enforcement notice stating the required steps to remedy a breach of planning control within a time period (Article 68). It is an offence not to comply with the requirements of an enforcement notice within the period specified.
  • serve a stop notice, which can prohibit, almost immediately, any activity to which the accompanying enforcement notice relates (Article 73). This can only be served with, or on foot of, an enforcement notice. It is a offence to contravene a stop notice after it has been served.
  • enter any land for enforcement purposes (Articles 121 & 122). It is an offence to wilfully obstruct a person acting in exercise of these powers.
  • enter onto land, following the landowner’s non-compliance with an enforcement notice to carry out any remedial work required by 5 the notice. The Department may also recover from the landowner any expenses reasonably incurred by it in that behalf (Article 74).
  • serve a notice requiring the submission of certain information regarding the ownership or use of premises (Article 125). It is an offence not to provide the information detailed in such a notice within the period specified.
1.5 The 1991 Planning Order also includes a range of enforcement powers for additional aspects of planning control such as listed buildings, conservation areas, hazardous substances, trees and advertisements and makes provision for appeals against certain notices issued by the Department in taking enforcement action. These matters are dealt with later in this Statement.
1.6 Where enforcement action is initiated by the Department this can be a lengthy and complex process as many cases will require detailed investigation. In addition a number of site visits may be necessary before statutory notices can be served. If such notices are then appealed to the Planning Appeals Commission the process may become protracted. Ultimately a successful remedy in certain cases may only be achieved following court action.
1.7 It is important to note that following a commitment given to the Northern Ireland Affairs committee in its investigation into planning in Northern Ireland, the Department published a consultation paper which outlined proposals for strengthening existing planning legislation1. If put in place this will bring Northern Ireland planning enforcement powers broadly in line with the rest of the United Kingdom.
1 Proposals for Amendments to Planning Legislation in Northern Ireland: A Consultation Paper, DOE, March 1999.
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