Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sheriffs and Outlaws: In Pursuit of Effective Enforcement

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sheriffs and Outlaws: In Pursuit of Effective Enforcement

Article excerpt

Compliance has emerged as a key component of regulatory control but has been subject to limited research. This paper examines compliance in relation to planning control in Northern Ireland. It draws on a review of practice and procedure used to deal with planning enforcement cases and interviews conducted with professional planners. Many of the options considered emerge from the Review of the Planning Enforcement System in England published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2002). The findings are incorporated with theoretical perspectives of regulatory compliance and aim to provide a basis for discussion of strategies, which might be employed in pursuit of more effective planning enforcement.

Enforcement in the UK has long been regarded as the weakest link in the planning system, characterised by technicality, complexity and lack of urgency (DOE, 1975). Despite some tinkering with the legislative mechanisms most notably as a result of recommendations made by Carnwath (1989), implemented through the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, enforcement remains relatively ineffective (DTLR, 2002). A recent review of planning enforcement in England by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM, 2002) has suggested additional changes to the legislative framework which aim to increase the effectiveness of the system. While a number of interesting suggestions have been proposed, none takes into account the importance of understanding the structural factors that influence regulatory compliance at the everyday level.

The platform for this research has been provided by a review of the planning enforcement system in the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland conducted in the late 1990s (McKay et al., 2003). In that study, a series of empirical field investigations considered detailed aspects of enforcement practice and procedure. With the assistance of a regulatory framework conclusions were drawn for improved approaches to dealing with breaches of planning control in the British Isles.

This paper builds on the theoretical issues raised in the first paper and also considers the legislative mechanisms and practices used in the UK and Europe in pursuit of the goals of planning enforcement. It focuses on instruments enacted as a result of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 and those proposed in the ODPM (2002) planning enforcement review. In particular, the paper recognises that such measures fail to consider the major structural factors that influence regulatory compliance. As in the first paper the research considers the work of Hutter (1997) but in this case it draws extensively from the findings of leading theorists including Burby et al. (1998), Yeager (1991), Richardson et al. (1983), Scholz (1991), Hawkins (1984) and Ayres and Braithwaite (1992), exploring in depth how lessons can be learned for future practice by those employed in the task of designing and implementing regulations.

In the first instance this paper conceptualises regulation and it is established that regulatory laws per se often prove ineffective. With the assistance of appropriate theoretical concepts it explains how enforcement of the law relates not only to sanctioning, but also to a series of mechanisms underpinned by collaboration and negotiation. Strategies are reviewed considering which types of action have the potential to improve effectiveness and it is these that provide the platform for the empirical investigation. A discussion of existing and proposed approaches to dealing with planning enforcement demonstrates how UK governments pursue deterrent based strategies supported by strong statutes. The empirical investigation, which has been conducted through structured and semi-structured discussions with planning enforcement professionals, considers the merits of such strategies and how lessons can be learned from regulatory studies. The paper concludes by recognising how the complexity of the enforcement equation is such that it cannot be solved solely by legislative mechanisms. …

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