Neil Whittaker, new chair of the RTPI National Association for Planning Enforcement, outlines his wholesale review of services to give members more practical resources, closer to where they are
Planning enforcement is a key component of any successful planning system. It is an important and distinct function within the planning process. When things go wrong, it is usually enforcement officers who are called upon to provide answers. We often say they work at the ‘sharp end’ of planning and development management.
They ensure the consequences of decisions made from planning applications being refused or, where applications haven’t been made in the first place, are carried through on the ground. Officers require unique skills and an eye for detail to ensure the effective and successful resolution of the many issues encompassed by planning enforcement.
Planning enforcement has the potential to support a wide range of policy outcomes beyond planning if used effectively and proactively.
I was honoured to be elected, earlier this year, as the new chair of the RTPI’s planning enforcement network – the National Association for Planning Enforcement (NAPE). I have worked in planning enforcement for the majority of my career and have been on the NAPE Management Committee for a number of years. For me, it is an important way to give back to my profession and support others by sharing knowledge and best practice.
Cuts to local authorities make NAPE more relevant than ever
Given the cuts to local authority resources over the past decade, planning enforcement officers are fewer and fewer on the ground with less resources at their disposal. What we offer through NAPE goes some way to providing the support and expertise that colleagues would have.
As a part of my appointment, I am in the process of conducting a wholesale review of the services and support we provide to ensure the network continues to be relevant to its members. At a time when pressure continues to increase on resources, placing a strain on the planning system, I believe NAPE is now more relevant than ever.
NAPE’s activity across the UK important for officers to understand local context
Across the UK, the most common type of breach varies depending on the location. For example, enforcement breaches relating to illegal dwellings or caravans are frequent occurrences in some places and not others. It is, therefore, essential NAPE emphasises the value of understanding the local context of enforcement, which is why we have a committee representing all parts of the UK. A wide variety of enforcement issues affect different localities and while officers can learn from cases in different places, understanding the local context is key.
With the help of the NAPE regional committee members and the RTPI team embedded in the English regions, our aim is to nurture and support the establishment of local enforcement officer groups alongside regional events.
Refreshed members-only handbook is a valuable day-to-day tool
In order to ensure NAPE is still the main source of planning enforcement guidance, we will be reviewing and updating our Enforcement Handbook. The members-only handbook provides guidance on how to gather evidence in a case, visit sites and carrying out enforcement action. We will continue to use our monthly newsletter to share best practice, legal updates and relevant events to support members’ continuing professional development.
Ensuring a strong pipeline of future planning enforcement officers
It is important that the proportion of the education curriculum devoted to development control and enforcement is increased. Therefore, I will be working closely with the RTPI Young Planners’ Network and academic institutes, such as RTPI-accredited planning schools.
Promoting the profession
To promote and enhance the role of planning enforcement within the planning profession more generally, we wish to take a cross-disciplinary working approach to raising the awareness, seizing every opportunity to get planning enforcement into the media.
NAPE’s annual conference
We are also in the early stages of planning our very popular annual conference, to be held at the end of October in the Midlands. Recognising the importance of the local context and wanting to make our events accessible to all, we move the conference around the UK. In previous years, it has been held in Edinburgh, Belfast and Bristol.
Going by last year’s incredibly successful event, this will continue to sit centrally in enforcement officers’ calendars, covering a wide array of planning enforcement topics. It always features lively and candid questions from the floor and exciting open forum discussions.
New enforcement LinkedIn group
Finally, I am delighted to announce the formation of the RTPI NAPE Planning Enforcement Group on LinkedIn. I hope this group will help planning enforcement officers to share resources, knowledge and best practice in a convenient and practical manner.
The changes I have for NAPE this year should ensure the network continues to grow from strength to strength and it is already enjoying record high membership.
If you would like to join NAPE or wish for more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil is currently an Associate at Ivy Legal, a specialist planning law and planning enforcement consultancy, and has over 10 years’ experience in planning enforcement, managing planning enforcement teams at a number of local authorities.
National Association for Planning Enforcement