Thursday, 25th April 2024

How will the end of the ‘Four Year Rule’ impact developers?

The Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA 2023) is designed to “speed up the planning system, hold developers to account, cut bureaucracy, and encourage more councils to put in place plans to enable the building of new homes.”


One significant feature of the Act (section 115) is the abolition of the ‘Four Year Rule’. This rule, which currently gives local authorities just four years to act against certain planning breaches, was revoked on 25 April 2024 (England only).


What was the Four Year Rule?


Section 171B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA 1990) gave local planning authorities (LPAs) strict time limits to take enforcement action for breaches of planning control. There was:


  • A four-year limit to start enforcement action against unauthorised operational development, including building, engineering, mining, and other operations;
  • A four-year limit to start enforcement action against unauthorised changes of use to a single dwellinghouse.


LPAs could not initiate enforcement action after four years from the date of breach. So, if owners procure Certificates of Lawfulness, those developments could be regularised (apart from some specific circumstances).


What has changed?


After 25 April 2024, LPAs in England will have a decade to take enforcement action against unauthorised development or the change of use of a building to a single dwelling. This aligns with the current ‘Ten Year Rule’ for other planning control breaches such as unauthorised material change and breaches of condition as well the recent changes to the building control regime.


The change is not retrospective, so, as long as affected projects were substantially completed before the new rule takes effect, the ‘Four Year Rule’ will still apply.


Other legislative changes implemented on 25 April 2024 include (but are not limited to):


  • Giving LPAs the power to issue temporary stop notices where they believe works are being carried out to a listed building without the required consent;
  • Increasing the duration of new temporary stop notices from 28 to 56 days;
  • Giving LPAs the power to issue enforcement warning notices when it appears a development has taken place in breach of planning control, thus inviting applications to regularise the position;
  • Limiting the circumstances in which an appeal against an enforcement notice can be brought on the basis that planning permission should be granted for a development;
  • Giving the Planning Inspectorate the ability to dismiss appeals against enforcement notices and certificates of lawfulness when the appellant is causing undue delay to the appeal process; and
  • Increasing the financial penalties for a range of planning enforcement offences.


What does the ‘Four Year Rule’ change mean for developers?


Any developers carrying out work without the required authorisation should seek legal advice to determine whether the old or new immunity timeframes will apply.


  • For works completed (or substantially completed) by 24 April 2024, LPAs will have four years to take enforcement action
  • For developments not substantially completed by 24 April 2024,the new ten year time period will apply.


While the full impact of LURA 2023 is unknown, the extension from four to ten years may lead to increased action from local authorities as there is a greater period of time for them to become aware of planning breaches. There may also be insurance considerations as providers tighten their requirements to protect themselves from the changes.


At Underwoods, we have extensive experience in commercial property matters. By taking the time to understand your situation and particular requirements, we can oversee a smooth process and deliver the right outcome for you. For further advice, please contact our commercial property team.

This article is for general purpose and guidance only and does not constitute legal advice.  It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.



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