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HOW THE 'ENFORCERS' ARE HAVING AN IMPACT

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West Sussex CC's decision to double the size of the enforcement team which checks minerals and waste sites has led ...
West Sussex CC's decision to double the size of the enforcement team which checks minerals and waste sites has led to a more proactive approach to making sure operators keep to their planning conditions.

Two new officers were hired earlier this year in a move also designed to reassure people who live near sites that complaints would be investigated quickly.

A report to the council's planning committee describes how 42 investigations took place during the first six months of 2003 of which 39 were resolved.

Councillors have been told that actions included negotiated solutions, warning letters which led to matters being put right and in some cases operators have submitted new applications to cover possible contraventions of their planning permission.

In many cases the complaints from the public needed to be dealt with by district or borough douncils and, in a few cases, the Environment Agency. The report says: 'Sometimes, initial investigations are necessary to establish which authority is the appropriate one to deal with the complaint and these are part of the service to the public given by the enforcement team.'

The report also describes how one breach of conditions discovered at a chalk quarry led to formal action for activities that included working outside the authorised area, importation of scrap metal and the lack of oil interceptor equipment.

The operator had 28 days to comply and after a follow-up visit, the enforcement team found that all the breaches had been complied with and there have been no further problems.

In another case, an operator had to take action after complaints about mud on a busy main road caused by vehicles using the site.

As a result of an investigation, the road surface was cleaned and a wheel wash for lorries was back in operation at the site.

Steve Waight, the West Sussex cabinet member for strategic planning and environment, said: 'It is vitally important that the public have confidence in the planning system. Strengthening the enforcement team has meant that we can respond quickly to complaints and put people in touch with the right authority should that be the case.'

The team also checks sites regularly to ensure operators are complying with planning conditions with the number of annual visits depending on the nature, scale and planning sensitivity of the operation.

However, prosecutions will only be used as a last resort with the report explaining: 'The work of the team is evolving and priority will always be given to resolving any planning contravention by formal or informal negotiation.'

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