Hard to move a blot on the landscape

Worcester News: Worcester City Council: debate over planning enforcement Worcester City Council: debate over planning enforcement

PEOPLE’S expectations over what council chiefs can do to tackle untidy land are too high, the city’s planning boss has admitted.

Paul O'Connor says national Government rules on planning enforcement means a careful balance has to be struck over when to intervene.

The city council can use Section 215 notices to instruct land owners to tidy up a building or patch of land.

But the condition of the site must be deemed “harmful” to the wider community to be valid, and people who are slapped with a notice can appeal.

Mr O’Connor appeared before Worcester City Council’s scrutiny committee to debate planning enforcement.

He told politicians a careful balancing act also has to be struck over spending public cash on enforcement action.

“There are four key questions we have to ask ourselves when it comes to planning enforcement,” he said.

“What is the breach, what is the harm, what actions are needed to put it right and fourthly, is it expedient to take action.

“Just because a planning breach has occurred, it doesn’t mean we have to take action.”

“A key area of enforcement for us is the Section 215 notices on untidy land, but there can be tensions there over expectations,” he said.

“In summary, it has to be ‘harmful’ in order for us to take action.”

During the debate councillors asked him if the city’s enforcement team are afraid of “big businesses”, but he insisted it was not the case.

He was also asked if retrospective planning applications - when developers build something without permission, then apply for it afterwards, bothered him.

“You’d like to think everyone would go through the due process,” he said.

“But the system is set up nationally and if a development starts without that permission in place, the route is to consider a retrospective application.

“But we are not afraid, in these cases, to go for refusal if we believe it is causing demonstrable harm, even if that development is already built.”

Councillor Geoff Williams, the deputy leader and cabinet member for economic prosperity, said the authority “gets very vexed” over retrospective planning bids.

If a developer is handed a refusal over a retrospective application, they must either appeal to a national inspector or tear it down.

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