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  1. Blog
  2. Retrospective planning permission
Add value to your home
23 August 2023

Retrospective planning permission

Kimberley Taylor
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. What is retrospective planning permission?
  2. 2. When do you need to apply for planning permission?
  3. 3. Applying for planning permission
  4. 4. Applying for retrospective planning permission
  5. 5. Can your retrospective planning permission application be refused?
  6. 6. Can you legally carry out any building works without planning permission?
  7. 7. What happens if you don't get planning permission?
  8. 8. How much does retrospective planning permission cost?
  9. 9. Summary: Don't look back in anger...apply for planning permission!

Home improvements are a great way to increase the value of your property. Whether you want to convert the loft into a new guest room, add a conservatory to your garden, or just amp up your storage space, it can be the key to increasing your property's future saleability and adding some value to your home.

If you're planning on making any sort of significant change to your property, you'll often need to obtain planning permission from the local planning authorities to make your changes legal.

Retrospective planning permission isn't uncommon in the world of property. A lot of the time, someone's just made a genuine mistake during their building works and only realised they needed planning permission after it's finished. In other cases, someone has decided to sell their house but has discovered they can't sell it unless it matches land registry records (which of course they won't if they've carried out works on they home).

Or the local planning authorities may discover a building didn't have planning consent before the works were carried out, and they've sent a court order to apply for retrospective planning permission.

In any of these circumstances, you'll have to make a retrospective planning application. In this article we'll take you through what retrospective planning permission involves, how much it costs, when and why you need it, and what could happen if you don't apply.

What is retrospective planning permission?

If you want to carry out works on your property, the usual way is to first secure planning permission, which refers to the approval needed from your local authority to go ahead with the project. Retrospective planning permission falls under section 73A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and refers to planning permission requested after changes have been made to the property.

If you carried out works without obtaining planning permission, a local planning authority may request a retrospective planning permission application for the unauthorised work. It's quite common to receive a request for an application from your local authority if you've carried out an unauthorised project, so don't panic if you get the request. It gives you the opportunity to regularise the unauthorised change to your building or property and make everything legal.

Most retrospective planning permission applications are made after someone (perhaps an irritated neighbour) makes a complaint to the local authority, or an enforcement officer invites you to submit one. The owner of the property may also apply for retrospective planning permission themselves if they failed to obtain planning permission before the project took place and want to avoid legal action. Obtaining planning consent will also help ensure you can sell the property in future.

When do you need to apply for planning permission?

If you want to build something new or make significant changes to your property (for example adding an extension or changing the use of your property) you'll probably need to apply for planning permission.

Failing to obtain the required planning permission prior to the works being carried out isn't the be all and end all, because you can apply retrospectively.

An alleged breach of planning permission isn't illegal on its own, but the breach becomes illegal if you fail to comply with the enforcement notice or don't appeal to such a notice in time. You can find out more about breaches of planning permission here.

Applying for planning permission

As part of your planning application, your local planning authority will consider a range of factors before deciding whether or not to grant you planning permission. These factors include:

  • What you want to use the development for.
  • The impact of your development on the local area.
  • The infrastructure available for the proposed change like roads and water supply.
  • The number, layout, size and external appearance of the buildings.
  • Any landscaping needs.

The decision making process usually takes local authorities 8 weeks, but it can take up to 13 weeks if the proposed change is a lot larger or more complex.

You can find out about certain development projects and the required planning permission in our other blogs, including whether you need planning permission for a summer house, loft conversion or conservatory.

Applying for retrospective planning permission

There are few ways you can avoid applying for planning permission retrospectively and still make your development project legal.

The four year rule

This rule applies to single dwelling (Class C3) houses and flats. If you've been using the property in the same way and for the same purpose for four years, you can apply for a lawful development certificate. However, you must be able to prove this before making the application. You'll also need to prove any affected people have been made aware of the changes and don't have any objections.

For example, you've built an extension for your home without planning consent. Within four years from the completion date, you'll get an enforcement notice from the local planning authority that will either tell you to apply for retrospective planning permission or demolish the extension.

If you haven't reached the four year period, you can't provide sufficient evidence or someone has already complained to the council, the four-year rule won't be valid. If that's the case, you'll have to apply for planning permission retrospectively.

It's important to note if you're found to be deliberately concealing a development, the four-year period only starts once the development has been discovered. Because the development has been deliberately hidden, it's much more likely the council will take action in this case.

Lawful development certificate

Even if you're in the clear once the four-year period is over, you still need to make sure your development abides by local regulations, which means you'll need to apply for a lawful development certificate. This document grants planning permission for the previously unauthorised change or use of your property. It also allows for the continuous use of this change.

To be eligible for a lawful development certificate, you'll also need to make sure the property has been in the same use for the past four years, and you'll need to provide sufficient evidence.

The 10-year rule

The 10-year rule follows a similar process, but follows a time limit of 10 years rather than four.

The 10-year rule applies for any other breach of use of land or buildings, such as C4 houses in Multiple Occupation. It also applies to any other breach of planning control like changes of use, and any building work must be finished at least four years ago.

If you're unsure about where your planning permission falls, it's always better to seek professional advice.

Can your retrospective planning permission application be refused?

Planning law requires local planning authorities to accept and consider the application, and it will be considered on its own planning merits in the same way as other applications. Retrospective planning permission isn't more or less likely to be approved than other planning permission applications just because they've been sought after the fact.

However, retrospective planning consent isn't always automatic either. If the retrospective approval is refused, the local planning authority can issue an enforcement notice. This requires you to revert any changes made to your property. And at this point, the local planning authority will know about your unauthorised development and will take action if you fail to do so.

What is an enforcement notice?

An enforcement notice is a legal document served by your local planning authority if they think your property development is in breach of planning control, such as an unauthorised material change of use, operational development or breach of a planning condition. Enforcement notices have the power to demand for a development to be demolished or unlawful use to stop.

They must include specific details of the alleged breaches, how and to what extent the breaches should be addressed, as well as the time limits for rectifying the breaches.

What happens if your retrospective planning application is refused?

If your retrospective planning application is refused and your local authority has issued you with a planning enforcement notice, you may be asked to reverse any changes, reconstruct any demolished buildings, and any work must be stopped immediately. You'll be given a time limit to carry out these instructions, but if you fail to comply with the court order within the given time limit, you could face serious consequences.

Not only will your current home insurance be invalidated, it will also become much more difficult to get insurance moving forward. You won't be able to sell your property, and you could even face criminal charges.

However, if you think your development project is covered by permitted development, you might be able to appeal the enforcement notice.

Appealing a planning enforcement notice

If you receive a planning enforcement notice, don't panic. It doesn't necessarily mean your project is doomed. You may be able to appeal to stop your local planning authority from taking enforcement action.

You can appeal to your local planning authority under certain circumstances, such as:

  • Your retrospective planning application is refused.
  • Your local authority refuses to approve something reserved under an outline permission.
  • Local authorities refuse to approve a development you were told to build by them as part of a previous planning permission.
  • You have been granted planning permission but there are planning conditions you object to.
  • If the granted planning permission comes with planning conditions that your local authority refuses to change or remove despite your objections.
  • The local planning authority fails to deliver a decision to you within the 13 week time limit.
  • The local planning authority serves you with formal enforcement action but you don't agree with the notice.

It's important to note that making an appeal can take several months before they're completed.

Can you legally carry out any building works without planning permission?

There are plenty of instances where you can carry out building works without planning permission, such as certain types of loft conversions or upgrading the interior of your home. These projects are covered by permitted development rights because they don't change the footprint of the property.

As with any planning works, it's really important to check your rights as a property owner in case your property falls under certain exceptions. For example, you need to apply for listed building consent if you live in a listed building and want to make changes to windows or doors. If you live in a conservation area or national park, you'll also have to double check what your development rights are.

Conservatories and porches are also slightly more complicated and largely depend on the size of the construction, so make sure you check the rules with your local planning authority before you make any changes.

What happens if you don't get planning permission?

If you don't obtain the necessary planning permission for your property, you could face criminal charges, be forced to tear down your work, invalidate your insurance, and remove any future saleability. That's why approved planning permission is really important as it gives you peace of mind when it comes to any works you want to carry out, along with the document that validates that green light.

In some cases, illegal developments might fall under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which means the gross proceeds of the unlawful use or property can be recovered under a confiscation order. A big example of this would be rogue landlords renting out garden outbuildings to undocumented migrants, or illegal parking sites close to airports.

How much does retrospective planning permission cost?

Retrospective planning applications usually cost between £200 and £500, depending on the size and complexity of your project, as well as the local planning authority involved. You can find more information by contacting your local council to ensure you're doing everything right.

Summary: Don't look back in anger...apply for planning permission!

Though retrospective planning permission isn't more likely to be refused, it's also not guaranteed to be approved. There are ways to appeal an enforcement notice to try and avoid tearing down all your hard work, but sometimes, it may just be unavoidable.

Always double check if your unauthorised development qualifies for permitted development rights, in which case you can go ahead without planning permission. If it doesn't, retrospective planning permission is the only way to go to make your property legal.

If your breach is minor, you may be able to avoid enforcement action, but it's never a good idea to take the risk if you're at all unsure. You don't want to settle into your brand new guest room, conservatory or loft extension only to find it's got to be taken down (and let's not forget all the cost that comes with demolition!)

Retrospective approval can take months to finalise, so if you're an impatient home improver, it's probably better to seek planning permission before you start any works. Don't look back in anger...apply for planning permission before things get complicated!

And if you're interested in increasing your property's value, take a look at our Online Valuation Tool to discover how much your home is currently worth.

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