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Breach of Planning Control: Levelling-up and Regeneration

At present, the limitation period within which your local authority can currently take enforcement action for breaches of planning law depends on the nature of the breach: four years for operational development and ten years for an unlawful change of use.

Operational development has a broad scope and includes building, engineering, and mining in, on, over or under land. If it is not permitted development, it may be subject to enforcement action. After four years from substantial completion, so long as there has been no deceit or concealment, your local authority can’t bring an enforcement action. A previously unlawful development then becomes lawful. For example, an extension to a property or the conversion of a house into flats without planning permission will become lawful unless enforcement action commences within four years. 

An unlawful change of use (other than to a single dwelling house, which would fall within the four-year rule) or other breaches of planning control are subject to a limitation period of ten years.  

This distinction is set to change under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

This Act will introduce a ten-year limitation period for all breaches of planning control. At the discretion of the Secretary of State, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will simply be amended to replace the word ‘four’ with ‘ten’. 

The effect will be to increase the time limit within which breaches of planning control in England can be enforced for building operations and unauthorised change of use of a building to a dwelling from four to ten years. 


Returning to the examples of the extension and the converted flats, the local authority will have an extra six years to take enforcement action before the development becomes lawful. 

A transitional arrangement is likely to be included. This could range from allowing any four-year rule cases already in progress to run their course to exceptions for those who have reached the 4-year exemption but have yet to reach the new ten-year exemption. 

This change will no doubt be of significant concern to any landowners/developers who own land or buildings without planning permission (or a certificate of lawfulness), where the development has been carried out within the last ten years.

If a local authority informs you that you are in breach of planning control, it is vital that you take action quickly. 

For more information about this article or any other aspect of planning law and litigation, contact your Napthens Solicitors in Preston, Blackburn, Southport, and across the North West today.