Retrospective Planning Permission

The planning rules within the world of property development state that the owners of a property should apply for planning permission in advance of any building works that do not fall under their permitted development rights.

But what if mistakes are made? Is it possible to apply for planning consent retrospectively? What does this mean, and how does it work? In this article, we explore the ways in which planning approval can be sought after work has been carried out.

Do I Require Planning Permission?

It is important to do your research to find your whether you will need to obtain planning permission prior to the start of any building works. If you do not, and planning consent was, in fact, required, your project will be what is known as an “unauthorised development”.

The same goes for change of use. If you did not seek the correct permission before adapting your property for a new purpose, the action you take may be considered an “unauthorised change”.

What Will Happen if I Fail to Obtain Planning Permission?

The planning control system dictates that – should your local planning authority learn that your project does not have the correct planning permission in place – you may be served with a planning enforcement notice as the result of an alleged breach of planning law.

Even if you manage to avoid receiving a notice, you will likely find it difficult to sell the property should you ever decide to.

Upon receipt of such a notice, work on your project should be stopped immediately, and retroactive planning permission should be sought as a matter of urgency.

When is Planning Permission Needed?

Planning permission, otherwise known as planning consent, should be sought in a range of particular circumstances, including:

  • Demolition of property
  • Changes to a building’s structure
  • The construction of new buildings
  • Certain types of extension
  • Rebuilding
  • Certain material changes
  • Groundworks and other engineering operations
  • Mining
  • The division of a property into multiple residences or premises
  • Change of use

You can learn more about planning permission and planning conditions via

I’m Still Not Sure Whether I Require Planning Permission

If you remain unsure as to whether a planning application should be made, the best approach is to make contact with your relevant local planning authority in order to receive advice.

What if My Property is a Listed Building?

If you own a property that has listed status, you are likely to need listed building consent. This applies if a planned development or proposed change is likely to affect a building protected by Historic England.

There are also protected trees, which are covered by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) – a matter that is handled by the Woodland Trust.

What is Retrospective Planning Permission?

Retrospective planning permission is an approach that involves seeking retrospective approval from local planning authorities in order that a project may be granted planning consent after building works have started – or even after they have been completed.

Property owners may make a retrospective application after a planning breach is discovered, to ensure that their building works will comply with the law.

In many cases, an unauthorised development is the result of a genuine mistake, whereby the owner was not aware that they required planning permission, and any alleged breaches were not discovered until an enforcement notice – or planning contravention notice – was delivered and enforcement action begun.

If local planning authorities move to issue an enforcement notice, the owner of the property in question is given a time limit to apply for retrospective planning permission or to take any action detailed in the notice.

Time limits of this kind are usually 28 days.

Retrospective Planning Permission

What if My Retrospective Planning Permission is Denied?

It is worth noting that planning permission will not necessarily be granted after retrospective planning application. If it is rejected, planning control may file a court order demanding that all building works are reversed and that the property is returned to its former state. This will majorly affect the value of the property, land or development site.

Can You Appeal Against Local Authority Enforcement Action?

If you feel that enforcement action is being taken unfairly against your building project, you may be able to launch an appeal. You can find out more about how to do this on the website.

What is the Time Limit for Retrospective Planning Permission?

As mentioned above, a planning enforcement notice may include a time limit that instructs the property owner to make a retrospective planning application within a certain period in order to seek such consent as will see their project meet every required planning condition.

However, if you have not received a planning enforcement notice, there is no official time limit within which you must make a retrospective planning application.

If you believe that the work you are undertaking may constitute a planning breach, you should simply make an application as soon as possible.

It is worth noting that there are time limits on local planning authorities that state that they must take formal enforcement action within a set number of years to prevent unlawful use of – or changes to – property. These are known as the “four year” and “ten year” rules…

Retrospective Planning Permission – 4 Year Rule

Local authorities are required to serve a planning enforcement notice within four years of building works being “substantially” completed if planning permission is needed for a project.

Should planning control enforcement specialists miss this window, the project will then be considered a “permitted development” and cannot be made the subject of formal enforcement action.

The four year rule also applies to the “unlawful use” of a building that is to be used as a residential property. If an unauthorised change of use is not contested with an enforcement notice within four years, the local planning authority will then be forced to accept its new use.

Retrospective Planning Permission After 10 Years

The “ten year rule” is another condition that affects planning enforcement.

It works similarly to the four year rule, in that if the owner of a property commits a “breach of use” – that is, if their building is utilised in a manner that is not permitted by planning law, an enforcement notice may only be issued within ten years.

Beyond that point, the property may continue to be used in the new manner, and a retrospective planning application need not be made.

This longer window of time also comes into force once the development is considered “substantially” completed, but only applies to non-residential properties, such as commercial buildings and agricultural land.

Planning control must also accept breaches of pre-existing planning conditions that have gone unchallenged throughout that same ten year period.

Do the Four and Ten Year Rules Mean That I Don’t Need to Apply for Planning Permission?

No – you should always apply for planning permission if you have reason to believe that your building works do not constitute a permitted development.

Relying on your ability to apply for planning permission retrospectively, or on the possibility of four years or more passing before any enforcement action is taken, is an extremely risky move and one that is not supported by any local authorities.

Remember also that very few buyers (even through auction) will be interested in a property where the seller is relying on the four or ten year rules to come into play.

Retrospective Planning Permission Cost

There are likely to be different costs associated with retrospective planning permission depending on the specific building works and/or changes involved in a development. offers a handy list of planning permission costs and application fees right here.

How to Apply for Retrospective Planning Permission

In order to comply with the planning system in operation in your area, you can make a retrospective planning application to your local authority via the Planning Portal.

You must do so as soon as you become aware of any reason why your project may not qualify as a permitted development. If you do not, you are likely to receive notice from planning enforcement officials.

How Long Does it Usually Take for Retrospective Planning Permission to be Granted?

You will usually need to wait at least eight weeks to find out whether your building project will be granted retrospective approval, though this may extend to 13 weeks in cases of a more complex planning application.

The best course of action is always to obtain planning permission in accordance with the requirements of all relevant local authorities well in advance of the start of any new development project.

A retrospective planning application should not be required if you have done your due diligence as a property owner or project manager. If you have done so, and are absolutely sure that your project falls within your permitted development rights, then it will not require planning permission.

However, mistakes do happen, and, if you file your retrospective planning application in a timely manner, that permission may be granted, and your building will be protected against enforcement action.

April 16, 2023

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