April 2024 changes to planning enforcement regulations – what changes do developers need to be aware of?

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New regulations made earlier this year brought various provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023, concerning planning enforcement, into force in England on 25 April 2024. Most significantly, immunity from planning enforcement can now only be obtained after ten years for all breaches, and what was known as the ‘four year rule’ is no longer in place. 

Previously, breaches of planning control involving the carrying out of physical operations or change of use of any building to a single dwelling house were able to benefit from a shorter period of four years before they acquired immunity from enforcement action. So long as breaches of this kind had been ongoing for that period, running in the case of physical operations from when the works were substantially completed, no enforcement action could be taken by local planning authorities. This is significantly shorter than the ten year period for all other breaches of planning control. 

This article highlights the changes to the planning enforcement regulations in England that developers need to be aware of.

How have the planning enforcement rules changed in England?

From the 25 April 2024, the law in England changed so that all new breaches of planning control will need to subsist for the longer ten year period to acquire immunity from enforcement action. 

Under the transitional provisions, physical operations that were substantially completed before 25 April 2024, or a change of use of a building to a single dwelling house before 25 April 2024, will still be subject to old rules with a four year enforcement period, as long as it can be demonstrated that the relevant breach took place before the new provisions come into force. If you fall within those transitional provisions, you should locate and secure any evidence of this. 

Further changes to planning enforcement rules which came into force in England on 25 April include:  

  • The duration of the operation of temporary stop notices is increasing from 28 days to 56 days. The extended period will not apply to notices that were issued before 25 April 2024.
  • Local planning authorities will be able to issue enforcement warning notices. This is a procedure for an authority to request a planning application, where it appears there has been a breach of planning control and there is a reasonable prospect that planning permission relating to the breach would be granted. Such requests are routinely made at present, but will now be given a more formal footing. We are not persuaded that this new mechanism adds much of significance to the range of powers available to authorities, but it may prove to be a success.
  • There will be further restrictions on appeals against enforcement notices. In ground (a) appeals, where planning permission ought to be granted or the condition or limitation concerned ought to be discharged, there will be a limit on the circumstances in which an appeal against an enforcement notice may be made.
  • This applies if the enforcement notice was served after the making of an application for planning permission that was related to it. These restrictions will not apply to appeals against enforcement notices that were issued, and have not been withdrawn, before 25 April 2024.
  • There will be reforms relating to undue delays in appeals. The changes enable the secretary of state to dismiss enforcement notice appeals if the appellant is adjudged to be responsible for the undue delay in the progress of the appeal.
  • There will be increases to the penalties for offences for non-compliance. Fines for breach of condition notices will increase, as will penalties for non-compliance with untidy land notices.

Will the new provisions affect Wales?

These new provisions will not have any effect on the law in Wales. In line with a broader divergence in planning law in the two nations the rules will remain the same in Wales, with new breaches relating to physical operations and change of use of a single dwelling house continuing to acquire immunity under the shorter four year period. 

In summary 

Together with the powers of local planning authorities to seek planning enforcement orders to deal with cases of concealment introduced in 2012, these new changes show a slow but steady hardening of the planning enforcement regime.

For more information, please contact the planning team.

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