Planning enforcement

About planning enforcement

Planning permission is required for most development that takes place in Scotland, with the exception of some minor works known as 'permitted development'. Consent is also required for most work carried out to a listed building (internal and external), for the display of most advertisements and signage, and for all work carried out to trees in a Conservation Area or covered by a Tree Preservation Order.

Sometimes a developer will undertake work without permission or fail to keep to the terms of the permission they have been given; this is often referred to as a breach of planning control. Where a breach has occurred, we have power to take enforcement action if it is in the public interest to do so. Enforcement is, however, discretionary and not all breaches will result in formal action being taken.

When we investigate an alleged breach, an assessment is made to determine what action, if any, is necessary. In many cases where a breach has taken place, there is no adverse effect on the character of the surrounding area, or on residential amenity. In these circumstances, we may decide not to take formal enforcement action simply to regularise a development which is otherwise acceptable.

Where a breach has occurred and action is required, we will usually attempt to resolve the matter through negotiation, rather than immediate statutory action. This may involve the submission of a retrospective application or a requirement to take steps to address specific problems with a development. In cases where a breach is serious or must be brought under control and it cannot be resolved informally, we will take appropriate formal action.

It is important to note that most planning breaches, other than those relating to listed buildings, trees and advertisements, do not initially constitute a criminal offence. There are also a number of issues often perceived to be 'planning matters' over which we have no control.

We will often monitor development and other work being carried out to ensure that planning requirements are being met, but there is also an important role for the public in alerting us to any problems that may occur. We welcome the reporting of potential breaches by members of the public.

Our planning enforcement charter explains in greater detail how the planning enforcement process works in Highland.

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