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The latest news and events at Maples Teesdale

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Planning Enforcement and the 10 Year Rule

New planning enforcement time limits have just come into force and at the same time the confusion and speculation about the potential retrospective effect of the changes has been cleared up.  Transitional provisions will ensure a gradual introduction of the new rules, but that is still not to say that all anomalies have been avoided.

What is the 10-year and 4-year rule?

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 included two sets of time limits for bringing enforcement action against unauthorised development – the 4 and 10-year rules. The 4-year rule relates only to building, engineering, mining or other operational development, and the conversion of buildings to single dwelling houses; the 10-year rule applies to everything else.

The time limits directly affect the issue of enforcement notices. Councils across England can issue an enforcement notice on a landowner where there has been (a) an unauthorised material change of use; (b) a breach of a planning permission condition; or (c) a breach relating to operational development. Subject to rights of appeal, once a landowner is served with an enforcement notice they will have to follow the specific steps set out in it to remedy the breach. 

If no enforcement notice has been issued to a landowner within the relevant time limit, the development becomes lawful and landowner can apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness. The landowner must prove that the development took place at least 4 or 10 years earlier, depending on the type of operation and/or use. 

The new Regulations and the transitional period

Section 115 Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 has entirely revoked the 4-year time limit for enforcement. The updated law will mean that no unauthorised development can qualify for a Certificate of Lawfulness until 10 years have passed with no enforcement since the development was completed. 

The abolition of the 4-year rule has caused uncertainty for developments that were nearing 4 years from completion and also those that were between 4 and 10 years. Some practitioners had erroneously suggested that landowners should seek lawful use certificates for development that satisfied the 4 year rule in order to safeguard their positions. The Government has now introduced a transitional period in Regulation 5 of the 2024 Regulations in response to landowner uncertainty. 

As a result of the transitional provisions, any operational development or use as a single dwelling-house that was substantially completed before 25 April 2024 can still become lawful under the 4-year rule. For example, if a landowner’s change of use for their property to a single dwelling is proved to be substantially completed on 20 April 2024, then their dwelling would become lawful after only four years – by 20 April 2028.  On the other hand, if the change of use occurred on 30 April 2024 the use would not become lawful until 30 April 2034.   All developments that satisfied the 4 year rule before 25 April 2024 are lawful, even if they do not satisfy the new 10 year rule. 

Landowners should be cautious as to whether their development is “substantially completed”. Planning case law has previously determined that whether something is substantially completed is not objective, but rather a case-by-case decision taken by the planning authority. Each case will be slightly different based on unique facts. 

Why the change?

The change in legislation is seen as a move by the government to strengthen the powers of planning authorities. The National Planning Policy Framework states that “effective enforcement is important to maintain public confidence and trust in the planning system”.

It is key that all landowners with development that previously fell to be considered under the 4-year rule carefully consider the new legislation, and the transitional period criteria. So get those Google Earth documents saved and open an emergency evidence folder as robust laws demand proactive measures.


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