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Quite simply, a retrospective planning application is one that is submitted after a development requiring planning permission has already taken place. 

By law, you’re supposed to apply for planning permission before you undertake a development that requires planning permission. Furthermore, you should only proceed with the development if planning permission is granted. 

Occasionally, however, development is undertaken without the necessary planning permission in place. This happens for various reasons.

For example, the developer or site owner might have mistakenly believed their development was subject to a permitted development right, meaning no planning permission would have been required.

Don’t fall into the same trap! Find out more about permitted development rights – including what they are and what sites they apply to – using the button below.

If you undertake development without first securing the necessary planning permission, that’s a breach of planning control and you could face enforcement action. You can find out more about how to fight enforcement action using the button below.

Retrospective planning applications provide an opportunity for developers and site owners to put right the breach of planning control – by securing planning permission for their development after the event – and avoid more costly and serious enforcement action.

Some councils will invite you to submit a retrospective planning application before they take formal enforcement action. If your application is successful, no enforcement action will be taken. However, if your application is unsuccessful, you will likely be issued with an enforcement notice.


Your local council should approach your retrospective planning application in exactly the same manner as a normal planning application. 

They will consider the merits of the application and assess it against all relevant planning policies.

The fact that the application has been made retrospectively should not have any bearing on the decision-making process. Whilst this means you will not be penalised for having submitted the application late, it also means the fact that the development has already occurred will not increase your chances of securing permission. 


Before formal enforcement action

Most retrospective planning applications are invited by your local council once they become aware of a breach of planning control. It is a first alternative to taking enforcement action.

Your council will send you a letter that normally includes a deadline to submit your retrospective planning application. In our experience, they are usually willing to extend this deadline if you make your intention to submit a retrospective planning application clear.

Your council will then wait for your retrospective application to be decided before proceeding with enforcement action. If permission is granted for your retrospective application, no enforcement action can or will be taken. If permission is refused, it is likely your council will proceed to issue an enforcement notice.

However, if an enforcement notice has already been issued, your local council can turn a retrospective application away. 

If you opt not to submit a retrospective planning application when invited, your council is entitled and likely to pursue formal enforcement action. This is serious and you need to deal with it properly – find out more about how to do that using the button below.

Before you sell a property

You may also wish to apply for retrospective planning permission in cases where your local council has not invited it. For example, if you are looking to sell your property and need to regularise past developments (such as extensions or outbuildings) that have taken place without the necessary planning permissions*.

*In certain cases, your solicitor will require you to do this.

Depending on what the development is and when it occurred, it may be preferable to apply for a lawful development certificate instead of seeking planning permission retrospectively. You can find out more about lawful development certificates and the time limits for taking enforcement action using the buttons below.

We can advise you on the preferred course of action in each case. 


If retrospective planning permission is refused, you need to act quickly. Fortunately, you do have a right to appeal the refusal in the same manner as a normal planning application. Find out more about submitting a planning appeal using the button below.

However, your council is likely to take formal enforcement action unless you promptly state your intention to appeal.

If you do appeal, most councils will wait for the appeal to be decided before they take enforcement action. Should the appeal be allowed, the development will become lawful and no enforcement action can be taken against it. If the appeal is dismissed, it’s likely that a formal enforcement notice will shortly be issued by the LPA. 

Occasionally, a local council will decide to take enforcement action whilst a retrospective planning application is still under appeal. Unfortunately, you must also appeal the enforcement notice if this happens.

Received an enforcement notice?

 Once you have received a formal enforcement notice you have only two options:

  1. Comply with the terms of the notice within the given deadline* OR
  2. Appeal the notice within the given deadline. 

*normally, the terms are that you must remove/cease the development and put the site back to its former condition.

When you appeal an enforcement notice, you have to select one or more of the 7 specific grounds of appeal. These include ground (a) – that planning permission should be granted for the development. You can find out more about dealing with enforcement action – including information about the 7 different enforcement grounds of appeal – using the button below.

However, you are not entitled to appeal on ground (a) if you’ve already had retrospective planning permission refused by your local council and:

  • The deadline to appeal that application has not yet expired OR
  • You already submitted an appeal against that refusal and the appeal was dismissed. 

If an appeal against an enforcement notice is dismissed, you’re really out of options and will need to comply with the terms of the enforcement notice. Usually, that will mean removing the development and returning the site to its former condition.

Contact us today for professional assistance with enforcemeent action and retrospective planning applications.

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