Retrospective Planning Permission
When making major changes to your home that aren’t covered by permitted development, you should always endeavour to obtain planning permission in advance. However, when planning permission isn’t given in advance, or when the finished structure differs significantly from the works permission was granted for, there may be action by the council.

Punishment won’t necessarily be forthcoming. Enforcement action is only likely if the building is dangerous, or if planning permission for the finished structure would have been refused to start with.

Not getting permission
The Four Year Rule
There’s an element of time being a great healer when it comes to unauthorised developments, and that’s where the four year rule comes in (or the ten year rule, if it’s not a residential property). In layman’s terms, if the alterations have been in constant use for four years, any action will be unenforceable.

For example, if a house was acquired through circumstances where you didn’t necessarily know the status with regards to planning permission – such as through inheritance – contacting the local council will be necessary. They will then respond asking for dimensions and materials used, and let you know whether planning permission was required in the first place, or whether the four year rule means that nothing can be done anyway.

A Lawful Development Certificate, or LDC, will give you peace of mind, and add a belt to those braces. It’s not the same as planning permission, but it will reassure buyers that the building work is lawful. It’s not free, but it’s a fee worth paying.

There is one notable and famous example of the four year rule being declared null and void.

It’s often said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but when Mr Fidler decided to build a mock Tudor castle without obtaining planning permission first, his case of seeking retrospective planning permission went spectacularly wrong. He claims that he had put in a proper planning application which had never been responded to, so at some point between 1999 and 2006, a sizeable house was erected, and somehow kept secret.

Being aware of the four year rule, he hid his castle behind bales of hay, believing that all he had to do was keep it out of sight for the required period of time, and it would be allowed to remain standing. He was wrong. Reigate and Banstead Borough Council decided that as no one had been able to see the house for four years, it could be argued that building work hadn’t actually been completed until the hay bales were removed in 2006, and therefore, they were going to take enforcement action.

The ensuing legal battle took almost a decade, and even though Mr Fidler obtained nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition to save the property, the High Court injunction had one thing to say – take it down.

Making a start
Conclusion
Retrospective planning permission is a risk that should only be taken under very rare circumstances, such as when you are reasonably sure permitted development would cover the works anyway, or when a property has come into your possession under circumstances where you’re not sure if the works are lawful, or covered by the four year rule (and hay bales aren’t the answer).