***** Note: the 4 year rule is due to be phased out in the new Planning Bill: Levelling up and Regeneration. If this legislation is passed (possibly in late 2022 or early 2023), the 4 year rule will no longer exist and all development that currently becomes lawful after 4 years will be subject to the 10 year rule instead. If you have a 4 year rule case, you should bring it forward immediately before the 4 year rule is phased out. ******

Use the drop-downs to find out more about the 4 and 10 year rules.

What are the 4 and 10 year rules in planning?

If you make a change to a property that requires planning permission, you’re supposed to apply for planning permission first. If you make the change without planning permission (either because you didn’t apply or because permission was refused), that’s unlawful development and the council is entitled to take enforcement action. In many cases, the outcome of enforcement action will be that you must return the site to its former condition (before you made the change). 

You can find out more about the sorts of changes (or “developments”) that require planning permission by clicking the button below.

You can find out more about enforcement action by clicking the button below. 

However, nearly all development automatically becomes lawful & immune from enforcement action after a set time period.

The set time periods are:

These time limits on enforcement action are established by law – specifically, section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 [as amended]. They are commonly referred to as the “4 and 10 year rules”. 

Examples

Be warned: 

The 4 and 10 year rules do NOT apply if: 

  • The development has been deliberately concealed or provided as a result of fraudulent conduct or
  • The development is demolition of a building located in a Conservation Area.

There are no time limits on enforcement action in the case of development requiring listed building consent. This means that enforcement action could be taken against any development that failed to secure the necessary listed building consent indefinitely. Click the button below to find out more about listed building consent.

My development has been in place for 4 or 10 years (as applicable), do I need to do anything?

Although the time limits are “automatic”, the burden of proof is firmly on the developer (or site owner) to prove that the minimum time period has been met. 

If your local council becomes aware of your development and it is not immediately obvious that it has been in place for 4 or 10 years, they will probably still take enforcement action.

To prove to your local council that the time limit for taking enforcement action against your development has expired – and to receive their formal confirmation that no enforcement action can or will be taken against it – you must apply for a Lawful Development Certificate.

If the council is satisfied – on the basis of the evidence you have supplied with your application –  that your development has passed the time limit for taking enforcement action (be that 4 or 10 years), they must issue a Lawful Development Certificate. This certificate will forever act as formal confirmation that the development is lawful and cannot be enforced against. 

When you submit an application for a Lawful Development Certificate, your evidence must be varied and robust. It can include photographs, sworn affidavits, invoices and bills. If your local council refuses to issue a Lawful Development Certificate, you’re entitled to reapply with more evidence to support your claim.

Click the button below to find out more about Lawful Development Certificates.

My local council is taking enforcement action against me. Can I use the 4 or 10 year rule (as applicable) to fight this?

If your development has been in place for 4 or 10 years (depending on which rule applies) and your local council has opened an enforcement case but has not yet issued an enforcement notice, you should request that they hold off taking enforcement action whilst you apply for a Lawful Development Certificate.

Most local enforcement departments will be willing to wait for your Lawful Development Certificate application to be decided before they take any formal action. However, if your application for a Lawful Development Certificate is refused, it is very likely that the enforcement department will proceed to issue an enforcement notice. 

Enforcement notices are serious and you must deal with them promptly!

If you’ve already received an enforcement notice, you must submit an appeal against it. The ground of appeal relevant to you will be ground (d) – that the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed. Provided your evidence is robust, you will stand a very good chance of winning the appeal. Depending on the specifics of the case, there may also be additional grounds on which to appeal. 

Click the button below to find out more about enforcement notices and how to deal with them.

Bear in mind that if you fail to either appeal or comply with the requirements* of an enforcement notice before the date it takes effect, you could face criminal prosecution. If found guilty, you could be issued an unlimited fine. 

*In the vast majority of all enforcement cases, the requirement of the enforcement notice will be to remove the unlawful development and put the site back to its former condition.

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