Local planning authorities have a range of powers to deal with breaches of planning control. Within their arsenal is the ability to serve what is known as a ‘maintenance notice’ requiring landowners and occupiers to clean up untidy sites, writes Lee May, Partner, Brachers LLP.
In these circumstances the local council, usually the area’s district or borough council, can serve a notice under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 if they are satisfied that the amenity of a part of their area, or of an adjoining area, is adversely affected by the condition of land. The notice can require the owner and/or the occupier of the land to take steps to remedy the condition of the land.
If you are served with a section 215 notice, there is a right of appeal to the Magistrates’ Court, but it is crucial to note that this must be exercised before the date upon which the notice takes effect, which is specified in the notice. This should not be less than 28 days after the service of the notice.
An appeal can be brought on a number of grounds. Firstly, that the condition of the land to which the notice relates does not adversely affect amenity.
There is no clear definition of what constitutes an adverse effect on amenity. It is a matter of fact and degree to be determined by the council, or the magistrates on appeal, so it is not possible to definitively list the circumstances in which this power can be used. Some of the more common situations are where prominent buildings have deteriorated to the point where they become an eyesore, and rural sites which have become a threat to amenity through dilapidated structures or the accumulation of waste.
Section 215 notices cannot be used to deal with matters of pure aesthetics or taste. The classic example is where houses are painted with a colour scheme which is not to everyone’s taste.
The second potential ground for appealing is that the condition of the land is attributable to, and such as results in the ordinary course of events from, the carrying on of operations or a use of land which is not in contravention of planning control.
This can be particularly useful for farmers and other rural land owners as, in broad terms, it means that a site is not considered to be in breach if its condition arises from normal agricultural activities.
But this is not a free pass and there may come a point where the condition of the land is not as a result of the ‘ordinary course of events’. The threshold can be hard to define and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Other grounds of appeal are that the requirements of the notice exceed what is necessary for preventing the condition of the land from adversely affecting the amenity of the area or any adjoining area and that the period specified in the notice as the period within which any steps required by the notice are to be taken falls short of what should reasonably be allowed.
The key message is that if you are served with a section 215 notice you should get advice early and check the deadline for appealing. Once that date has passed your options are very limited and you may have lost the ability to challenge the notice completely. The notice and envelope should be marked with the words: Important – this communication affects your property.
It is important to note that failure to carry out the steps required within the time period specified in the notice is a criminal offence and can lead to a fine of up to £1,000. The council also has the right to carry out the works themselves where there has been default and recover the costs from the owner.