It is possible to obtain official confirmation that an existing or proposed use of land or buildings, or the erection of a building or other operational development, is lawful. This official confirmation takes the form of a ‘Certificate of Lawful Development’ and means that enforcement action by the local planning authority (LPA) cannot be taken against the development referred to in the certificate. You need to formally apply to your LPA for a Certificate of Lawful Development.
There are two types of certificate:
- A Certificate for a Proposed Development. If you intend to carry out development and want to be sure that it does not require planning permission, you may apply for one of these certificates. Circumstances in which such a certificate could be granted are if it is “permitted development” under the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order 2015 or if a change of use within the same use class in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (and its subsequent updates) is proposed.
- A Certificate for an Existing Development. This would be granted when development had been carried out sufficiently long ago for it to be immune from enforcement action. This period of time is four years for the erection of a building or other operational development or the use of a property as a self-contained dwelling, and a period of ten years in all other instances (including non compliance with a planning condition). A Certificate for an Existing Development can also be granted in other situations, including if the development did not need planning permission at the time it was carried out, for example, it was "permitted development".
In making an application for a Certificate it is the responsibility of the applicant to prove that the development or use is lawful on the balance of probabilities. It is in your interests when making an application to submit as much evidence as you reasonably can. If a Certificate is granted, this confirms the lawfulness of the development specifically on the date on which the application was submitted. The relevant Government department Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has produced technical guidance on how these applications should be determined which can be found in the Planning Practice Guidance.
It is also noted that there is no time limit in which an appeal against the refusal of a Lawful Development Certificate must be made.