Unauthorised development: An end to the four-year rule
Mar 2024
Commercial Property

Unauthorised development: An end to the four-year rule

Change to enforcement period for unauthorised development under the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023

The Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA 2023), which became law in October 2023, aims to streamline the planning system, hold developers accountable, reduce bureaucracy, encourage the construction of new homes and revitalise high streets. One significant aspect of LURA 2023 is the amendment to the time limits outlined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA 1990) regarding the enforcement of breaches of planning control and the time periods during which action can be taken.

Current enforcement periods
Under section 171(B)(1) of the TCPA 1990, local planning authorities have a four-year time limit (sometimes known as the ‘four-year rule’) to initiate enforcement action against unauthorised development, including building, engineering, mining, and other operations.

Similarly, section 171(B)(2) of the TCPA imposes a four-year time limit on local planning authorities in respect of enforcement action regarding changes of use of a building to a single dwelling.

After the four-year period has passed, local planning authorities are unable to take enforcement action meaning that developments without authorisation are permitted to remain despite not having obtained planning permission. The owner of such a development may apply for a ‘Certificate of Lawfulness’ which regularises unauthorised development.

Extension under LURA 2023
Section 115 of LURA 2023 extends the time periods specified in sections 171(B)(1) and (2) to ten years. This means that local planning authorities will now have a decade to commence enforcement action against breaches of planning control. It is important to note that breaches of planning conditions and changes of use (excluding the change to a single dwelling) already have a 10-year time limit, so this change is bringing breaches relating to unauthorised development and changes of use of to a single dwelling into line with the existing regime.

Enforcement of Section 115
Section 115 is currently not in force and will require implementation through separate regulations. No specific details regarding an implementation timeline have been released, nor is there any guidance on potential transitional arrangements.

Expected consequences
Any development or change of use of a building to a dwelling house without planning permission on the cusp of reaching four years may have to wait a further six years at the risk of enforcement action, depending on when the change is brought into force.

When conducting due diligence on property, it will be crucial to consider the implications of the changes implemented by LURA 2023. This is particularly important in determining whether risk of enforcement action still exists in connection with prior unlawful use of land or building operation, in light of the extended period local planning authorities have to take action.

The extension of the immunity period is likely to also impact indemnity insurers, who may tighten their requirements when providing cover against prior breaches of planning legislation.

Key takeaways
LURA 2023 introduces significant changes to the time periods for enforcement action against breaches of planning control. With an extension from four years to ten years, local planning authorities will have more time to address authorised development and changes of use. However, the exact implementation of Section 115 remains contingent upon forthcoming regulations. It will be interesting to observe the effects of these changes on the due diligence process, approach to risk, indemnity insurers, and the overall approach of local authorities to planning enforcement.

If you have any queries on changes to planning enforcement and certificates of lawfulness, or would like to discuss a related matter, please contact a member of our Commercial Property Team.

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