Changes to Planning Enforcement Time Limits

Understand the changes made to planning enforcement time limits, replacing the four-year limit with a ten-year limit for breaches and the role of a Certificate of Lawfulness after ten years.

The four-year time limit for bringing enforcement action against building or engineering operations and changes of use to a single dwelling house was removed on 25 April 2024.

What are the four and ten-year rules?

Planning permission is generally required for any material changes made to a property. Should these changes be made without planning permission, technically speaking, it would be considered unauthorised and unlawful development. This can lead to enforcement procedures, penalties, or the possible demolition of unauthorised structures and having to return the site to its former condition – a potentially expensive undertaking.

However, most unauthorised development could become lawful – and therefore immune to enforcement action – after a period of time.

Prior to 25 April 2024, the time periods were:

Type of development Time period
Carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations 4 years
Change of use of any building, to use as a single dwelling or house 4 years
Any other development, including most breaches of planning conditions and changes of use 10 years

The above time periods on enforcement action are established by law, in Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA). These are commonly referred to as the four and ten-year rules.

It should be noted that the four and ten-year rules do not apply in the following circumstances:

  • The development is demolition of a building located in a Conservation Area; or
  • The development has been deliberately concealed or is a result of fraudulent conduct.

What changed on 25 April 2024?

On 26 October 2023, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill became law, with secondary legislation finalised on 2nd April 2024. This brought enforcement provisions into force, with Section 171B of the TCPA being amended to delete the words “four years” and substituted with “ten years”.

This means that all breaches of planning control can only become immune from enforcement action after ten years. This includes those breaches which were previously four years.

Regularising a planning breach after the ten-year period has passed

Even though the time limits are “automatic”, the burden of proof sits firmly on the owner of the site to demonstrate that the minimum time period has been met. This is done through the application of a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development (CLEUD).

A CLEUD, which is issued by the Council, confirms that the existing use or development in question is lawful and does not require planning permission.

Application for a CLEUD

In order to prove to your local Council that the ten-year time limit for taking enforcement action against your unlawful use or development has expired – and to receive their formal confirmation that no enforcement action can be taken against it – you must apply for a CLEUD.

For your application to be successful, you will need to provide your Council with sufficient and robust factual information for them to consider the evidence.

Potential evidence can include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Title Register(s)
  • Tenancy agreements for the last ten years
  • Council tax bills for the last ten years
  • Electoral Roll evidence of current and previous tenants
  • Statutory Declarations from people with personal knowledge of the existing use or works carried out and
  • Valuation information
  • Dated photographs representing the use of the site
  • Electricity, water and gas bills for the last ten years; or
  • Any additional maintenance bills (i.e. builder bills, appliance bills, community charge bills and etc.).

If the Council is satisfied that the evidence supplied proves that the use/development has passed the relevant time limit for taking enforcement action, then they must issue a lawful development certificate.

The Courts have held that the relevant test of the evidence on such matters is “the balance of probability”. If the Council has no evidence itself, nor from any other party, to contradict or otherwise make the applicant’s version of events less than probable, there is no good reason for them to refuse the application.

The CLEUD will forever act as formal confirmation that the development is lawful and cannot, therefore, be enforced against.

How JLL can help?

Our Planning team can assist with the preparation and submission of any Certificates of Lawfulness applications to a Local Planning Authority. They can advise on whether your property would be eligible for a Certificate of Lawfulness, what information is required for the Local Planning Authority to validate the submission, prepare statements setting out how the existing use complies with the regulations set out under the ten-year rule; and manage the application process with the Council through to determination.

To discuss any of the matters discussed above or any other planning matter, please contact the team.