The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill proposes a catalogue of changes to the planning system. Along with the much discussed “street votes”, one of the more overtly populist proposals relates to a tightening up of the planning enforcement regime.
According to the explanatory notes, the Bill “amends and strengthens the powers and sanctions available to local planning authorities to deal with individuals who fail to abide by the rules and process of the planning system.”
In simple terms, there are presently two “immunity periods” after which planning enforcement action cannot be taken and unauthorised development effectively becomes lawful. These are:
- Four years for engineering works or a change of use to a single dwelling house; and
- Ten years for all other breaches (e.g. breach of condition of unauthorised change of use)
The Bill proposes to remove the “four-year rule”, resulting in all planning breaches being subject to potential enforcement action for ten years. Given that the law now makes provision for circumstances where unauthorised development is deliberately concealed, it is perhaps arguable that four years is ample time for Councils to enforce against built development, and the change will certainly introduce a much greater period of uncertainty for those who (whether knowingly or not) fall foul of the regulatory requirements. That said, significant opposition to this provision as the Bill makes its way through parliament seems unlikely.
For those who do find themselves subject to enforcement notices, the Bill proposes to increase fines that can be levied for failure to comply. In broad terms, the increases are as follows:
- Failure to comply with a breach of condition notice increases from £2,500 per offence to an uncapped fine.
- Failure to comply with a Section 215 notice to properly maintain land increases from £1,000 to an uncapped fine. Further, non-compliance with an order of the court under this section currently incurs a fine of £100 per day of continued non-compliance. This will rise to £500 per day.
Whilst not going so far as to make carrying out unauthorised development a criminal offence (as some had called for), the Bill also proposes to double the application fee for retrospective planning applications (i.e. applications for planning consent for development that has already taken place).
Enforcement Warning Notices
The Bill also adds a new weapon to a Local Planning Authority’s enforcement armoury. Where development has been carried out without planning consent and the LPA considers that there is a “reasonable prospect” that planning permission would be granted if an application was made, then it can issue an “Enforcement Warning Notice”. The notice will state the matters which require planning permission and give a specified time period for a retrospective application to be made before enforcement action may be taken.
Should these provisions be enacted as expected, it will be even more important than ever to obtain and comply with any requisite planning permission. Those who fail to do so face a nervous wait of at least a decade before unauthorised development of any type becomes immune from enforcement action along with more costly consequences of failing to comply with any resultant enforcement action, and increased fees if retrospective planning permission is applied for.