Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023: The demise of the four-year rule

Taylor Church

Taylor Church

Trainee Solicitor


The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill received Royal Assent on 26 October 2023 which means the Bill is now an Act of Parliament. The new legislation is proposed to reform the planning system, restore a sense of community, and address the current housing crisis.
Although the Bill has received Royal Assent, not all provisions come into force immediately, with some requiring further secondary legislation and statutory instruments to control how the law will work in practice. Many of the planning provisions require regulations to bring them into force, including the proposed changes to the time limits for enforcement action (Section 115, Chapter 5 Part 3).

The position pre-LURA

Carrying out operational development or changing the use of your property without planning permission is not a criminal act. However, one could be found guilty of a criminal offence if the Local Planning Authority (‘LPA’) decide to take enforcement action and you do not comply with their requirements.
Importantly, the LPA can only take enforcement action if they are within the appropriate time limits. There were previously two different time limits, depending on the type of development that is carried out without planning permission:
  • Four years: for any operational development or change of use to a dwelling house
  • 10 years: for any other breach of planning control (breaching conditions or limitations, or any other change of use other than to use as a single dwelling house)

The position post-LURA

The LURA intends to remove the four year rule (in England) and replace it with one blanket time limit of 10 years for the LPA to take enforcement action on all development without planning permission.
This change has not come into effect yet and will need to be implemented through separate regulations for which, unfortunately, a timescale has not been released.  Until then, the four year rule still applies.

Practical consequences

Any operational development or change of the use of a building to a dwelling house without planning permission on the cusp of reaching four years may have to wait a further six years at the risk of enforcement action, depending on when the change is brought into force.
During consultation periods in the House of Lords, there was discussion that legislation should allow for exceptions to be given to those who have reached the four year exemption but have not yet reached the new 10 year exemption. Whilst this may come forward in future regulations, there are no provisions for this in the LURA as it curently stands, so such an exception cannot be relied upon just yet.
We would advise planning consultants and architects to make clients aware of the impending changes as soon as possible, and consider making an application for Certificate of Existing Lawful Use or Development as soon as the time limit expires.

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