The core of the enforcement officer's job is to respond to complaints from members of the public about building projects and work out whether the necessary planning permission has been secured. They also check whether work has been carried out in accordance with any permission that allows a scheme to go ahead.
If permission is required, development control teams deal with the resulting planning application. But if a development is unacceptable, a legal document known as an enforcement notice will be served, requiring it to be demolished or altered.
"The majority of the job is visiting sites where planning applications have been approved, checking that the development has been put up correctly and any conditions have been followed," says John McLuskie, enforcement officer at South Lanarkshire Council.
Gathering information, which may then be used as evidence in prosecutions or serving enforce- ment notices, is an important part of the task. "A lot of people have done things because they didn't realise that they needed planning permission and you have to explain that. Often it's something that would have got planning permission so you help them get the paperwork," says McLuskie.
"You need good customer skills because you have to deal with people," says Dave Jolley, director of Urban Vision, a company which runs Salford City Council's planning services and works with other councils. The growing emphasis on "development management" rather than control means enforcement is becoming an increasingly important part of planning, he believes.
Nigel Wicks heads up a consultancy called Enforcement Services Ltd, which is often called in by local authorities to deal with tough cases. He was involved in the demolition of a gangmaster's hostel which was put up without planning permission at a site in Lincolnshire. The police had to seal off the road to enable the enforcement operation to take place.
Wicks finds a lot of job satisfaction in getting rid of developments that undermine residents' quality of life. "I believe in the planning system and I believe that it needs to be enforced," he says. Jolley agrees: "There's a lot of satisfaction doing a vital job for the community."
PROFILE - GRAHAM STALLWOOD, Development control manager, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
Graham Stallwood's team deals with all aspects of development, from when householders, firms or major developers decide to build something to when the scheme is complete. Part of his job is to oversee the council's enforcement service: "It's about making sure development happens in the way the community intended. When things go wrong we undo the harm," he explains. He relishes working with other parties, from members of the public and councillors to engineers, lawyers and consultants. "We can use their expertise to shape the borough's environment," he says.