One of the most common reasons that a local authority serves an injunction on what appears to be vacant land, is in order to prevent the unauthorised development of the land that it believes may occur, particularly on land in a sensitive location or which has a special designation (e.g. it is classified as green belt or is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)).
Section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 gives the local authority the power to serve an injunction on owners, occupiers or persons unknown (anticipated occupiers), where it considers that it is necessary or expedient for any actual or apprehended breach of planning control to be restrained by the injunction.
They key element here is that an injunction can be granted whether or not there has been an actual breach of planning. This may be in a situation where the local authority has received information about possible future breaches of planning control either from the surrounding community or other sources of information.
Because of the nature of the penalties for breaching an injunction (possible imprisonment), there is a high bar that the authority must reach before a court will grant the Order, and so it is not a power that a local authority exercises without having thoroughly considered the strength of its own evidence. If there is any doubt that an injunction would be granted by the court (which will carry out its own examination of the evidence), it is unlikely that a local authority would go down this route. It is an expensive and very time-consuming exercise.
Did you get notice of the injunction?
Don’t be surprised if, when the injunction lands on your doorstep (or is given to you personally), it is the first time you’ve seen it. More often than not, local authorities will apply for an injunction “without notice”. This means that they approach the court with a reason why giving you, or any other persons, notice of the impending injunction may lead to the unauthorised development taking place on the land before the injunction can be granted.
What to do if you get an injunction served on you?
First of all, don’t panic! The document itself will set out the penalties for not complying with the injunction which, at first sight, can seem very worrying – it will refer to a possible prison sentence; it has to, by law. This does not mean that if you step foot on the land, you will be sent to prison. However, it does mean that you need to take notice, take advice, and respond if you need to.
The injunction will also set out the things that you are not allowed to do on the land, for example, put any hardcore down, put caravans on the land, or put fencing up (to ‘parcel’ the land off). The document should be very clear in this regard and it should be easy for you to understand what it is that you are not allowed to do. If it isn’t, this needs to be clarified quickly by the local authority.
In the bundle of documents that you receive, there will also be a claim form, response documents and one or more witness statements. The witness statements will tell you what you need to know about the evidence that the local authority has to support its application for the injunction.
If the injunction is on land that you own or occupy and you do wish to carry out works which the injunction prevents you from doing, you should act quickly.
Even if the injunction relates to development (or uses) which you think you will never undertake, it is wise to respond and make your position known, not just for the sake of your existing requirements on the land but also any future use that you (or future owners) may wish to put the land to.
If you would like further advice about injunctions or have received an injunction in relation to land that you own or occupy, please contact Kate Jardine on 01892 701310 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Article published: 11/10/2018.