Planning authorities must keep track of enforcement action and ensure it is effectively delivered, the Local Government Ombudsman has warned.
The move comes after the ombudsman investigated a complaint by a resident against the London Borough of Hackney, which spent more than five years trying to get a neighbour to remove an unauthorised extension.
The neighbour failed to comply with orders made by the Crown Court, continued to build, and prevented council contractors from removing the unlawful extension.
The ombudsman’s investigation found that time and again it has been left to the man to chase the council for an update on its actions and to find out what was happening.
The council failed to keep in touch even after it promised to improve communications.
The investigation also identified a backlog of 1,500 open enforcement cases within Hackney, some dating back to 2001.
The council has since allocated two officers to go through all open cases to decide what further action should be taken.
“The public can only have trust that their local council will protect them and their local environment if those councils act swiftly and appropriately to maintain planning control,” said ombudsman Jane Martin.
“People may therefore feel justifiably aggrieved if their council promises to take direct action against unlawful development, but then lets them down.”
Martin told the council to apologise and provide the man with updates on the progress of its direct action to remove the unauthorised development.
Hackney should complete the draft of its enforcement strategy and include a reference to keeping in touch with people who report breaches of planning control.
Martin also recommended the council to pay compensation of £2,500.