The council has taken more action against people breaking planning law than any other local authority after changing its approach to investigations.

Government figures show Barnet Council served 194 enforcement and breach of conditions notices in the year ending December 2018 – the highest rate in England.

It comes after the council appointed a dedicated officer to investigate non-compliance with planning law by cross-referencing data from different departments.

This marked a shift in the council’s stance so it is actively looking for breaches rather than merely responding to requests to investigate.

The council says this approach “has proved so successful that it has been impossible for the officer to investigate all historic data due to workload number of cases generated”.

A second compliance officer has now been appointed to carry out investigations.

Reports of planning breaches also rose significantly, however, with the council receiving 1,948 requests to investigate an alleged breach of planning control in 2018 – up from 1,596 the previous year.

Officers can take a range of actions when they discover a breach, from prompting people to submit retrospective planning applications to taking offenders to court and knocking down illegal buildings.

The figures show there were nearly 60 prosecutions for planning offences during the 2017-18 financial year – up from just over 40 in 2016-17.

Most cases are resolved without officers having to take enforcement action.

Councillor Wendy Prentice, chairman of the planning committee, said: “Planning rules are a very important way of protecting the character of the borough and ultimately making sure buildings are appropriate and in keeping with the area in which they are situated.

“Our Planning Enforcement team works exceptionally hard to make sure those rules are followed and were the most active team in the country last year, taking action in hundreds of cases.

“This really demonstrates the skill of the team and the proactive approach it takes in enforcing planning law.

“While many cases are resolved informally, the team’s work is very important in deterring illegal and inappropriate developments, and ultimately those who flout the rules can expect to be brought before the courts if they fail to take the action required of them.”

London boroughs topped the list of authorities taking enforcement and breach of conditions action, with Brent having the second-highest rate (155) and Newham in third spot (152).