Councils are to be given strong new powers to tackle unauthorised development by travellers and stop planning breaches through the Localism Bill, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced today. Mr Pickles wants to protect people who play by the rules by creating a fairer planning system that can put a halt to illegal developments – such as unauthorised traveller sites and homes built in secret without planning permission – that have a dramatic affect on law abiding neighbours.

The proposals are an important part of the coalition government’s planning reforms that give councils strong enforcement powers to tackle people who wilfully ignore planning law or break agreed conditions for development.

Retrospective planning permission for unauthorised traveller sites and other illegal developments will be banned whilst subject to tougher enforcement proceedings. Councils will have new powers to extend time limits on tackling people who deliberately mislead planners such as those deliberately concealing illegal building.

The Localism Bill will devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities more control over housing and planning decisions. It will help set the foundations for the Big Society by radically transforming the relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

"It simply is not fair that people get away with creeping in at night to set up unauthorised encampments or secretly constructing illegal homes to the detriment of their law abiding neighbours.
"The majority of people are happy to abide by planning laws and we will not sit back and allow people to illegally building a home or dishonestly bypass the planning system.

"The system must be fair and these new powers will give councils real teeth to crack down on offenders so everyone is on an equal footing and those who play by the rules are protected."

The new enforcement measures in the Bill for councils include:

A ban on retrospective planning permission for unauthorised traveller sites and other illegal development subject to enforcement proceedings.

People will no longer be able delay enforcement proceedings with retrospective planning applications and appeals. People who illegally develop – by moving onto a site or putting up a structure quickly over a weekend – often submit a retrospective application while appealing against an enforcement notice. This often "buys" the applicant more time by paralysing the system with multiple issues. Applicants will have to choose to either apply for retrospective permission or appeal the enforcement notice but not both.

Financial penalties more than doubled for deliberately ignoring planning laws.

Magistrates’ Courts will be able to impose fines of up to £2,500 instead of the current limit of £1,000 for breach of conditions.

New powers to extend time limits on tackling people who deliberately
mislead planners.

This will stop people benefiting from fraud. Councils will be able to apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a Planning Enforcement Order where they believe someone has deliberately tried to conceal illegal building or development even after the four year time limit on taking enforcement action has expired. The new Order will allow a council a further year to take enforcement action.

To ensure the strongest possible system Mr Pickles is also announcing further enforcement measures in addition to those to be proposed in the Localism Bill.

These include:

  • Encouraging councils to develop local enforcement plans that set out their enforcement priorities. These could be to tackle specific issues affecting people in their area such as noise, waste or anti-social behaviour;
  • A reduction in enforcement guidance so councils have more freedom to decide local priorities;
  • An expanded national database of prosecutions for all planning offences to help tackle persistent offenders;
  • To look into charging higher fees for retrospective planning applications – to ensure they become a greater deterrent.