The End of the Four-Year Rule

The End of the Four-Year Rule

The ability to enforce the legislation to tackle unauthorised works is being strengthened through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023, with the time limit for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to take enforcement action being extended to ten years in all cases.

Currently, certain unauthorised works could be considered deemed or permitted after four continuous years if evidence can be provided to the LPA through a Certificate of Lawfulness application. Building works such as household extensions, new buildings, or the use of a building as a dwelling fall under this four year timeframe, whilst a ten year enforcement period applies to developments involving changes to the use of land or buildings. The amendment to Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will mean that the length of time that needs to have lapsed since a development that took place can be considered lawful, is changing to ten years for all breaches as of 25th April 2024. If LPAs become aware of any unauthorised works, they will either serve an ‘Enforcement Notice’ or ask that Planning Permission is applied for retrospectively. If the subsequent application is then refused, the LPA could take steps to cease the use or require the removal of any structures/buildings.

The Planning Legislation essentially deems that once the relevant time period for taking enforcement action has passed, the LPA is unable to take any action so the matter should then be considered to be lawful. The legislation also sets out the process for applying for a certificate called a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’ which confirms that what has already taken place is lawful. This is particularly useful when selling land and property as it guarantees that the future owner can retain the building or continue using land or buildings in their current use without the threat of enforcement action from the LPA. Such a certificate would also provide useful security when renting buildings or land that are in a use that doesn’t benefit from planning permission.

Transitional arrangements after 25th April 2024 will be put in place which still allow for a Certificate of Lawfulness to be applied for based on four years, but it will be necessary to demonstrate that the works were substantially complete on, or came into use, before this date.

We expect to see an increase in unauthorised works being picked up by LPAs, requiring more retrospective planning applications to be submitted to regularise any unauthorised works.

We are committed to assisting our clients with any planning issues or concerns. Please contact us to assist with any of your planning queries.

Published 18th April 2024

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