Planning Permission

If you are buying a property your conveyancer has a duty to ensure that all necessary planning permissions (and building regulations) have been obtained.  This is because if you buy a property that does not have proper planning permission you will become responsible for rectifying the problem, even though you did not cause it.

What is planning permission?

Planning permission is permission from the local authority for the development of the land.  Such permission may contain conditions to ensure that the work is carried out in a certain way or to limit future use.  Normal conditions might be, for instance, that the work is started within 5 years of the permission being granted or that no work is to be carried out between the hours of 22:00 and 06:00.  An example of a limiting condition could be permission for the erection of a garage with a condition that its use remains as a garage, i.e. cannot be later altered to domestic use.

When do I need planning permission?

Generally planning permission is required to make major alterations to an existing building, to erect new buildings and to make significant changes of use to either a building or a piece of land.

Normally minor alterations that do not affect the exterior of the property do not require planning permission.  However, if the property is within a conservation area or is a listed building, planning permission may still be required.

There are some exceptions to the requirement for planning permission which have been created to allow certain developments that are deemed to be minor in nature without permission.  These are covered by General Permitted Development Orders and include the:

  • erection of a front porch
  • erection of a small extension to the rear of an existing building
  • erection of a garage or outbuilding
  • change of use of an existing garage to domestic use
  • erection of walls and fences

Each local authority has the power to create their own permitted development orders and so the specific criteria for each development may vary from one to another.  For instance one authority may permit an extension of up to 40m2 without planning permission whilst another may allow up to 70m2.  You will need to check with the relevant authority of the property to see what limitations are placed within any general permitted development order.

What happens if the land has been developed without planning permission or when a condition of the planning permission has been broken?

The local authority can issue an enforcement notice requiring the owner of the property (not necessarily the person who carried out the works) to undo the works (return the property to its original state) or to carry out whatever further works it deems necessary.  If the breach is from a change of use then the local authority can issue a stop notice requiring that the new use be stopped.

The local authority can only issue an enforcement notice within 4 years of the date that the works began.  Therefore, if more than 4 years have passed there is no risk of action.  development

In terms of change of use, the 4 year limit applies to the conversion of a property to a single dwelling house but not the reverse.  If a single dwelling is converted to two or more flats, or is a house is used for business purposes, there is no time limit.  Therefore the local authority could issue a stop notice, in these circumstances, at any time, although it is generally accepted that if more than 10 years have taken place it is unlikely that action will be taken.

If you are buying a property then the local search will reveal what planning permissions have been granted for the property and whether an enforcement notice has been issued against the property in the past.  If an enforcement notice has been issued, written confirmation that it has been complied with should be obtained from the local authority before buying the property because it is the land owner that has to comply with the notice.

What can be done to rectify a planning issue?

If the 4 year time limit has not expired you can apply for retrospective planning permission  (or if you are buying the property request that the seller does so) from the local authority.  This process can take a long time and there will be a cost involved, varying with the local authority.

The local authority may:

  • refuse permission and issue an enforcement or stop notice; or
  • add conditions or require alterations to be made before granting retrospective permission.

If you are buying you should not do so until the planning permission is in place and any conditions satisfied.

Is there anything else that could be done?

A common way to deal with a non compliance issue is to take out an insurance policy that indemnifies you against loss caused by the  lack of planning permission.  The policy would cover the holder against any future losses should the local authority take action.

In a typical conveyancing scenario the seller would be expected to pay the premium for the policy, which would be taken out in the buyer’s name.

An indemnity policy is usually cheaper than obtaining retrospective approval and is certainly much quicker (often only taking minutes to arrange).  The downside is that the risk of enforcement action still remains.

Is there anywhere else you would recommend to look?

Try the government planning portal.

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