Written by Nikki O’Hagan, 7th July 2023
After a progress update on the 4 year rule?
We’ve already issued a couple of news stories about the upcoming cancellation of the 4 year rule. If you’ve already read those, you’ll know the 4 year rule was initially due to be cancelled in 2022. The government’s next estimate was April 2023. 3 months on, it’s looking likely that the 4 year rule will be sticking around for at least a few months yet. Read on to find out more.
What is the 4 year rule?
The 4 year rule is an important rule in planning. It means that certain unlawful developments can be made lawful once they have been in place for at least 4 years. Generally speaking, a development will be unlawful if it required planning permission but no planning permission was granted.
The 4 year rule applies to a few different types of developments. Most significantly, it applies to the use of any building (or part of a building) as a dwelling (house or flat). For example:
If a pub was converted to a house in 2019 without planning permission, it could become lawful in 2023 by making use of the 4 year rule.
The 4 year rule also applies to most building works, as long as there has been no change in the use of the site. For example:
- the extension of an existing building
- a new building (as long as the site is in the same use)
- new fences, gates and boundary treatments.
There are a few restrictions of which to be aware:
- The 4 year rule won’t apply if enforcement action has been taken against the development
- The development has to have been in place continuously for at least 4 years. There can’t be any gaps.
Other types of development are subject to the 10 year rule. This means the development would need to be in place for at least 10 years – not 4 – before it could become lawful due to the passage of time.
Developments subject to the 10 year rule include:
- Most changes of use (except to use as a dwelling)
- Most breaches of planning conditions.
Click the button below to find out more about the 4 and 10 year rules.
The government is proposing to scrap the 4 year rule. If it’s thrown out, all development currently subject to the 4 year rule would become subject to the 10 year rule instead.
This proposal is part of the controversial Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is still making its way through Parliament.
It’s still possible the Bill will never become law and it’s also possible the amendments to the 4 year rule will be removed before it becomes law.
However, we think it’s wise to take a cautious approach and to prepare for the 4 year rule’s cancellation.
What progress has been made?
There are 12 different stages a Bill must pass through before it becomes law. To help you keep track of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB), its progress is shown in the table below.
You can also check the progress for yourself on the government’s website:
Progress of the LURB through Parliament
|Stage||What?||Progress of LURB|
|1. First reading (Commons)||Bill is formally introduced to the Commons, there is no debate||11/05/22|
|2. Second reading (Commons)||MPs debate main principles of the Bill and vote on whether to move it forward||08/06/22|
|3. Committee stage (Commons)||Line by line examination and debate of the Bill by a Committee of MPs. Amends are proposed and made, if agreed||21/06/22 – 20/10/22|
|4. Report stage (Commons)||Another opportunity for MPs to examine and make changes to the Bill. Each proposed amendment is subject to a vote||23/11/22 – 13/12/22|
|5. Third reading (Commons)||Final chance for MPs to debate contents of the Bill. No amendments can be made. MPs vote on whether to approve the third reading. If approved, the Bill progresses to the House of Lords||13/12/22|
|6. First reading (Lords)||Bill is formally introduced to the Lords, there is no debate||19/12/22|
|7. Second reading (Lords)||Lords debate main principles of the Bill||17/01/23|
|8. Committee stage (Lords)||Line by line examination and debate of the Bill by the House of Lords. Amends are proposed and made, if agreed||20/02/23 – 24/05/23|
|9. Report stage (Lords)||Another opportunity for the Lords to examine and make changes to the Bill. Each proposed amendment is subject to a vote||11/07/23 – 20/07/23|
|10. Third reading (Lords)||Opportunity for the Lords to “tidy up” the Bill, making sure it’s effective and workable. Amendments can still be made.||TBC|
|11. Consideration of amendments||House of Commons considers amendments made by the House of Lords and vice versa. The Bill goes back and forth until both Houses agree on its exact wording. If they can’t agree, the Bill falls.||TBC|
|12. Royal Assent||A formality. The monarch agrees to make the Bill an Act. It’s then law.||TBC|
Current stage: 8 of 12
Of the 12 different stages, 8 have already been completed. To date, neither House has proposed to keep the 4 year rule. This means it is looking more and more likely that the 4 year rule will be cancelled.
Stage 9 – report stage in the House of Lords – is expected to complete on 20/07/23. If progress does continue at the same pace, we anticipate the third reading in the House of Lords to complete before the end of July 2023.
Once we reach stage 11 – consideration of amendments – the Bill will keep moving back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords until both Houses agree to its contents. It is very difficult to estimate how long this will take. It depends on how many disagreements there are between the Houses and whether the disagreements can be resolved. If they can’t, the Bill will likely fall at this stage.
If the Bill does pass stage 11, we can assume it will become law – the last time a monarch refused Royal Assent for a Bill was in 1708! Royal Assent is often granted within a day or so of stage 11’s completion.
When can I expect the 4 year rule to end?
If the Bill manages to pass the last 4 stages, it will become law. It is still possible the part of the Bill that cancels the 4 year rule will be amended or completely removed. However, this is looking less and less likely as the Bill moves through Parliament.
If the Bill becomes law with its 4 year rule provisions intact, then the 4 year rule will cease to exist.
However, the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords has recently told us, on behalf of the government:
“We will make transitional provisions in regulations to ensure that breaches of planning control that are currently immune from enforcement action will remain immune following the passage of the Bill.”
This suggests that unauthorised developments that have been in place for at least 4 years prior to the Bill becoming law will still be able to make use of the 4 year rule after the law changes.
- At this stage, we cannot know for certain whether the provisions suggested by the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords will actually be brought in. Until that’s formally confirmed by government, we think it’s best to cautiously assume the Bill will remain in its current form, without any transitional provisions
- We also don’t know what the provisions might say. We think it’s likely, if they are brought in, that there will still be a time limit on use of the 4 year rule. Given their previous response to changes in planning legislation, our best guess is the government will introduce a 1 year time limit on use of the 4 year rule following the change in law. At this stage, we can only guess!
What should I do if I have a case that relies on the 4 year rule?
Our advice hasn’t changed. If you have a case that relies on the 4 year rule, we recommend that you submit your application ASAP, before the change in law. If the government confirms that transitional provisions will definitely be made, our advice may change. However, we think it’s likely some form of time limit will still be introduced for the 4 year rule – potentially 1 year from the change in law. We’ll keep you updated as the Bill continues its progress through Parliament and we learn more!
If you have a case that relies on the 4 year rule, contact Planning Direct today to find out how we can assist you. Our initial advice is always free of charge.