What happens if I fail to seek planning permission?

house plans for property under construction planning permission

You will usually need to apply for planning permission when developing land or a building (including changing its use). Development that is carried out without obtaining planning permission is known as ‘unauthorised development’, and can potentially result in an expensive outcome.

Do I need planning permission?

You are likely to be considered in breach of planning control if you:

  • Are developing a site without planning permission;
  • You have planning permission but are not meeting the terms of that permission, i.e, not following the plans, or meeting the conditions or legal agreement placed on the permission;
  • You are carrying out external or internal works to a listed building without listed building consent;
  • You are displaying a sign or an advertisement without advertisement consent;
  • You are felling or carrying out works to a tree that is protected by a tree preservation order or in a conservation area;
  • You are demolishing a building in a conservation area without consent.

Although, in most circumstances, breaching planning control is not considered a criminal offence, there are exceptions including when a developer wants to:

  • carry out unauthorised works to a listed building;
  • display advertisements without permission;
  • carry out works to a protected tree.

In these circumstances, if the work carried out is thought to be unacceptable, harmful or not in the public interest, the local authority is able to take legal action.

Although carrying out development without planning permission is not automatically considered a criminal offence, it is possible that it will still contravene planning laws and councils have the power to enforce those laws. If a developer fails to lodge an appeal or their appeal fails, failure to comply with the decision becomes a criminal act and may be prosecuted in the magistrates court.

The Town and Country Planning Acts seek to strike a balance between the freedom of the owners to use or alter their property as they wish. This makes planning enforcement a very complex area, where the council is required to safeguard the amenities of neighbours, conserve historic buildings and protect the natural environment of an area.

Some cases of planning enforcement are resolved through negotiation or by submitting a retrospective planning application. An applicant will usually be required to cease any work until such time as the matter is formally resolved.

In some cases, a time limit exists which can make a planning offence immune from future enforcement. This is either four years or ten years, dependent on the severity of the offence, however, there are situations in where there is no immunity. Read the government advice on time limits.

Section 97 of the Town and Country Planning Act gives local planning authorities the power to revoke or modify planning permission, although they cannot withdraw a permission unilaterally unless payment of compensation is made.

If you wish to raise an enforcement complaint, contact your local council planning office.