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Changes to the time limits for enforcement

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA 2023) proposes a number of changes to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – the primary source of legislation for planning in England and Wales – but those changes need to be brought into force through secondary legislation. One of those proposals includes a change to the time limits for the period in which local planning authorities (LPA) may seek enforcement action against breaches of planning control and that change is now in effect. 

The 4-year rule and 10-year rule

Prior to 25 April 2024, the time limit for LPAs to seek enforcement action was either a 4 year or a 10 year period as explained below (and subject to certain exceptions for example in the case of deliberate concealment).

The 4-year rule: 

This applied to breaches of planning control which consisted of the carrying out without planning permission of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land. This definition is wide-ranging and encompasses operational development that is not permitted by a planning permission. Legislation provided that no enforcement action could be taken after 4 years from the date on which the operations were substantially completed. 

The 4-year rule also applied where there had been breaches of planning control consisting of a change of use of a building to use as a single dwelling house. 

The 10-year rule: 

For all other breaches of planning control including breaches of planning conditions and other changes in use of land (excluding the changes of use of a building to single dwelling house), legislation provided that no enforcement action can be taken after 10 years from the date of the breach.  

Current Position 

From 25 April 2024, the 4-year rule has been abolished (only in relation to England). Subject to transitional arrangements (detailed below), all breaches of planning control will be subject to the 10-year rule (regardless of the type of breach), thereby extending LPA’s enforcement powers in certain cases. 

Transitional Arrangements

Transitional provisions apply whereby the changes will not apply to breaches of planning control in the following circumstances: 

  1. breaches of planning control relating to operational development without planning permission where the operations were substantially completed before 25 April 2024; or
  2. changes of use of buildings to dwelling houses where the breach occurred before 25 April 2024. 

Accordingly, care will be needed to identify the date of any breach to assess the relevant limitation period that applies.

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