Home   News   Article

Hundreds of Inverness planning breaches kept secret

By Ally Tibbitt

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Highland Council has not published details of investigations into planning rules breaches.
Highland Council has not published details of investigations into planning rules breaches.

Highland Council is investigating more than 200 land owners and property developers in the Inverness area for breaching planning rules, without publishing any details online.

Three Inverness cases date back as far as 2017, meaning council officers have not closed these cases six years after complaints were first received. There are 11 cases that were first opened at least three years ago that remain unresolved and secret from the public.

Information on planning applications and enforcement cases is published on the council’s dedicated online “planning portal.” The portal also helps to keep people informed about planning issues in their area by sending email alerts when new information is published.

But a freedom of information request has revealed that details about hundreds of planning enforcement cases are not published on the council website at all.

Critics demanded more transparency and said that it should be “public knowledge” when property owners have broken planning rules. Failing to publish information on enforcement cases risks “public trust” breaking down in the planning process, they said.

Council officials have insisted that there is no legal requirement for them to publish details of their investigations. They said sharing information on open cases may prevent them from taking legal action in the future and that the people who complain are kept informed of progress.

Not all of the secret enforcement cases are active.

Seventeen cases that have never been added to the council website are identified as complete.

Another 71 property developers have received a formal “Notice” from the council but are not identified on the planning portal. This means that the property owner has been told by the council what they must do, after they have been found to have broken planning rules.

Some 334 cases are said to still be “pending” – meaning that the cases are still being investigated by planners.

Responding to the newly uncovered data, Clare Symonds, of Planning Democracy, a charity that campaigns to improve the planning system in Scotland, said that greater openness was needed.

“It is often the public who alert the authorities when there are problems with developers not carrying out planning conditions, or raising the alarm, for example when there are pollution incidents.

“Enforcement action can be critical to public health and environmental safety. Planning departments need the appropriate resources and willingness to carry out enforcement procedures, and the public have the right to publicly accessible information to have confidence that action has been taken."

Symonds added the UK has signed the Aarhus Convention – an international agreement that is supposed to guarantee citizens access to environmental information.

The council was forced to reveal the extent of its enforcement caseload following a freedom of information request.

To date, it has refused to name the property owners that are currently under investigation by officials, but it did provide a breakdown by ward.

Every area of Highland Council had at least one unlisted enforcement case. The area with the largest number of secret planning probes is the Aird and Loch Ness ward where there are 50 enforcement cases hidden from public view.

Across the seven council wards that cover the Inverness city area, there were a total of 122 enforcement cases missing from the planning portal. Eight of these cases were listed as closed by planners – but details were still kept from the public.

Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess said she found it “deeply worrying” that so many cases were kept secret by officials.

“Transparency is crucial to ensure people can trust our planning system, and are not subjected to unregulated impacts on their local environment," she said. "So it is deeply worrying that over 400 enforcement cases, including unregulated buildings and breaches of planning permission, are not listed on the Highland Council planning portal alongside other cases.

“Many communities already believe that the planning system is weighted in developers’ favour, since developers are allowed to appeal planning decisions but communities are not. At the least, developers should abide by the conditions in their planning permission once secured. If they breach conditions, this should be public knowledge, not hidden from the planning portal.

“Our local authorities must be supported to improve both transparency and enforcement of planning conditions, to ensure developments retain a social licence and operate within reasonable environmental limits.”

A council spokesman said: “The council is required to maintain a register recording information regarding any enforcement notices, breach of condition notices, stop notices, temporary stop notices, and notices under section 33A (notice requiring retrospective planning application), that are issued. The exact information to be recorded varies slightly according to the type of notice.”

“There is no legislative requirement to publish a list of all planning enforcement complaints or to provide details of the handling and outcome of enquiries that have not resulted in the issue of a notice described above. The outcome of our investigation will be provided to the interested parties as a matter of course.

“It would not be appropriate to provide details in respect of ongoing investigations as doing so could prejudice the ability of the council to take future action and would fail to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process. All planning enforcement activity is undertaken in accordance with the council’s Planning Enforcement Charter which is reviewed every two years as required by the legislation.”

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More