Starting gun fired – all planning breaches incurred from 25 April 2024 subject to 10-year period for immunity

30th April 2024

Image of a building plan

On 25 April 2024, there will be a major change in the enforcement period for breaches of planning control in England.

Currently, under Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, no enforcement action may be taken by local councils after four years from when there has been a breach of planning control consisting of (a) an unauthorised change of use of any building to use as a single dwellinghouse or (b) substantial completion of unauthorised building engineering mining or other operations. All other breaches of planning control, such as a breach of condition and any other material changes of use, are subject to a 10-year period for enforcement.

Importantly, the period for enforcement of all breaches of planning control will be 10 years from 25 April 2024. However, any unauthorised change of use that has occurred – or any operational development that has substantially completed – before this date will remain subject to the four years enforcement period.

This means that whether a breach has occurred, and in particular whether substantial completion of operational works have occurred, before 25 April 2024 will become crucial on future enforcement cases given the significant difference between four and 10 years.

Anyone who believes they may be in breach of planning control before the enforcement period changes, and don’t wish to regularise it now, would therefore be well advised to ensure they have good documentation of the date of any change of use to a dwellinghouse or the date of substantial completion of any operational works.

When considering the date of any change of use or substantial completion of operational works you should be very careful in ensuring that you are not concealing the breach as this can jeopardise the applicability of the immunity period such as provided in Section 171BA of the 1990 Act.

Finally, once you have passed the relevant immunity period you should consider whether you should apply for a certificate of lawfulness for such use or works under Section 191 of the 1990. However, if you are relying upon the four year enforcement period you are best to first seek professional advice on the adequacy of the evidence before applying. You do not want to be wrong and then bring the breach to the local council’s attention well within the 10 year period.

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