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Good Faith and Planning Applications

When it comes to planning applications, there is always a risk that your application will get rejected. It is because of this risk that some landowners have decided not to apply for planning permission. Instead, they have simply carried out the works to their property and hidden what they have done.

The primary reason for this level of secrecy is because of the limitation period set out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Under this Act, no enforcement action can be taken by the local authority after a period of 4 years from the date of the breach. Landowners have therefore been waiting out the limitation period before coming clean about their building works, as they knew the local authority couldn’t require them to reinstate the original building.

This has led to some rather high profile cases making the news. For example, you may remember reading about a landowner who attempted to hide his building works by surrounding the site with bales of straw covered in tarpaulin. Here, the Court found that the Inspector for the local authority was right when he issued enforcement notices requiring the house to be demolished and the land reinstated. You might say that this was a win for common sense, but was not entirely true. The reasoning behind the decision in this particular case was that the straw bales were considered to be part of the building, and so completion of the works did not end until the bales had been completely removed. The enforcement notices that were served were therefore within the 4 year limitation period.

Thankfully, the case of Welwyn Hatfield BC v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government came along. This went some way to clarify this area of law, holding that that a landowner who has deliberately concealed planning breaches from the local authority could no longer rely on the 4 year limitation period put in place by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The law as it stands should therefore make any potential developers consider whether they are inadvertently concealing their building works. 

For more information on planning law, please contact Ben Gallafant at