Social media weaponizes enforcement

25 Oct 2023

Planning enforcement requires evidence and the power of the internet has made intelligence gathering a whole lot easier than it ever was before. Google earth satellite images going back years is an obvious and well-used source, but now it seems that social media is another!

Social media has become such an accepted part of our lives that it is easy to forget the potential ramifications. Social media users are justifiably warned to be wary of what they put out into the public domain. Even seemingly innocuous posts may well come back to bite you!

An appellant appealing against an enforcement notice found the truth of this out the hard way. The notice alleged the change of use of the land from agriculture to a mixed use of open-air storage and residential use, involving siting of a caravan for residential use, without planning permission.

The appellant’s statutory declaration was that a caravan had been on the site and continuously occupied for residential purposes for more than ten years, from 2012. The submitted google earth images in this instance were very poor quality and didn’t go back far enough to support his claim. In addition, the council produced publicly available social media evidence which, in the inspector’s judgement, indicated that the appellant was living elsewhere in 2014. As the appellant was unable to corroborate his alternative version of events, the inspector could not conclude other than that his evidence was not sufficiently precise in terms of continuous residential occupation of the land for ten or more years (400-042-787) and the appeal was dismissed.

This planning enforcement case bears no comparison to the growing number of high profile legal cases, for example involving footballers wives, which have centred on social media evidence, but what is clear is that social media is something to be aware of whether you are the investigator or the investigated.

Futher case examples concerning evidence in establishing immunity from enforcement can be found in DCP 4.535.