Local planning authorities have the power to serve notices on landowners and occupiers requiring them to carry out works to improve land which is adversely affecting the amenity of an area. These are sometimes referred to as ‘untidy land notices’.
As a result of the increasing pressures facing our town centres, dilapidated and run-down buildings risk becoming an increasingly common sight. Some local authorities are considering using untidy land notices in order to ensure that their high streets do not become too run down and enter a downward spiral.
Here, we recap on what the law says about when and how these notices can be issued and the grounds for appealing them.
A local planning authority (“LPA”) may serve a notice under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“TCPA”) where the condition of land or buildings adversely affects the amenity of an area. The section 215 notice requires the owner or occupier of the land to clean up the land or deal with the poor state of a building. It can require a wide range of works to be carried out including clearance, demolition, re-building, external repairs. Failure to comply can lead to prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court and a maximum fine of £1,000. Further prosecutions can follow, with fines imposed on a daily basis. If the notice isn’t complied with, the LPA has the power to enter the land and carry out the work themselves, charging the owner of the land for the costs involved.
Section 217(1) provides that a person whom is served with a section 215 notice, or any other person having an interest in the land to which the notice relates, may, within the period specified in the notice at the end of which it is to take effect, appeal against the notice to the Magistrates Court on any of the following grounds:
(a) that the condition of the land to which the notice relates does not adversely affect the amenity of any part of the area of the local planning authority who served the notice, or of any adjoining area;
(b) that the condition of the land to which the notice relates 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 Part III of the TCPA (i.e. does not contravene planning control);
(c) that the requirements of the notice exceed what is necessary for preventing the condition of the land from adversely affecting the amenity of any part of the area of the local planning authority who served the notice, or of any adjoining area.
Section 215 of the TCPA provides LPAs with a broad power to issue notices on landowners and occupiers where the condition of land or property appears to be adversely affecting the amenity of an area. As to whether a property is adversely affecting the amenity of an area is a matter of fact and degree and common sense. LPAs can require wide ranging works to bring the land up to an appropriate standard.
Although section 217(1)(b) provides a route to argue that land is not adversely affecting the area, an LPAs view on the matter will normally stand, absent any evidence of them acting irrationally or serving the notice on the wrong landowner.
However, LPAs must take care when drafting s215 notices to ensure that they do not seek to prohibit development which benefits from planning consent (whether by virtue of a specific planning permission or permitted development rights (as was held in the case in R (Lisle-Mainwaring) v Isleworth Crown Court and another  EWHC 904)).
S215 notices must also clearly specify the mischief that is to be remedied. By failing to clearly set out what aspects of the land or property is adversely affecting the amenity of the area and needs to be addressed, LPAs will leave themselves vulnerable to successful appeal, as was the case in R (Alsop) v Derbyshire Dales District Council  EWHC 3562.
Finally, section 215 notices must only be served on those who have an interest in the land that is affecting the amenity of the area. If a notice is served on any other party, the LPA will be acting outside its powers and the notice may be quashed (as was held in the case of R (Toni & Guy (South) Limited and another) v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham  EWHC 203).
If you have any queries with regards to section 215 notices, please contact Will Thomas (details above).