Changes to planning enforcement time limits

14 June 2024

Plan for planning enforcement period changes

Substantial changes have been made to planning enforcement periods effective from 25 April 2024 (subject to transitional arrangements).

Previously, a four-year enforcement period applied in relation to carrying out operational development without planning permission and for a change of use to a single dwelling without planning permission. If the four-year period elapsed, then the local authority could not take enforcement action for the breach. This was at odds with the position relating to other breaches of planning control (such as other changes of use or breaches of planning conditions) which have always been enforceable for a ten-year period.

Under the recent changes, the enforcement periods have been aligned, with the previous four-year period replaced with a ten-year enforcement period for: 

  • carrying out operational works (which includes building, engineering, mining, or other operations in, on, over, or under land) without planning permission; and
  • change of use to a single dwelling house (for example changing office premises into a residential unit). 

Under the transitional arrangements, the four-year enforcement period will still apply where the operational development was substantially completed before 25 April 2024 or, in relation to the change of use to a single dwelling, where the breach occurred prior to 25 April 2024. 

Although a development will generally become immune from enforcement if the period for enforcement has passed, in cases where there has been concealment of a breach, the local authority has the right to take enforcement action “out of time”. 

Potential actions to take to mitigate risk of enforcement

To ensure that no disputes arise between potential buyers/developers/lenders and the local authority about whether the four-year or ten-year period applies, it is wise to seek evidence from the seller/counter party to ensure that any unlawful building operations and/or change of use to a dwelling house have been substantially completed prior to 25 April 2024 to avoid potential future enforcement.

If there have been any breaches prior to 25 April 2024, a lawful development certificate can be applied for (assuming there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the relevant enforcement periods have expired).

Potential implications 

It is likely that the extended enforcement period may act as a deterrent to owners/developers not having all necessary consents in place. Future purchasers and their lenders will want to ensure that the buyer/lender is not burdened with the more onerous enforcement periods and will be keen for sellers/developers to regularise the position.

When claiming immunity from enforcement (which is normally done in the context of a lawful development certificate application), a Local Authority will require evidence (such as receipts, invoices and photographs detailing when the building works were carried out and/or statutory declarations relating to use).