Certificates of Lawful Development – A Useful Planning Tool

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Practical Planning Advice
Author Brigid Taylor
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How to utilise Lawful Development Certificates


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What is a Lawful Development Certificate?

Where there is no formal planning permission or where a condition of planning permission has been breached, a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) can be sought to confirm that the use of a building or land is lawful.  They are issued by your Local Planning Authority (LPA) and can also be referred to as a Certificate of Lawfulness.

They can be used for both residential and commercial sites and include listed buildings and those in conservation areas.

It is also possible to obtain LDCs for buildings constructed without planning permission or to confirm that an existing or proposed use or development qualifies as permitted development. This article deals only with the existing use of land and buildings.

How to get a Lawful Development Certificate

To obtain an LDC, an application needs to be submitted to the LPA. The purpose is to prove that the land or building has, in fact, been in said use continuously for the relevant period and up to the date that the application is made. Usually, the LDC application will be supported by documentary evidence and will include at least one sworn Statutory Declaration setting out the facts in some detail. The application should be granted unless the LPA has any contrary evidence to outweigh the evidence submitted.

When to get a Lawful Development Certificate

An LDC can be issued when it is no longer possible for the LPA to take enforcement action against an unlawful use because of the associated time limits.

With the creation of residential use, the building must have been in continuous use for four years. For non-residential uses, or where a planning permission condition has been breached, the requirement increases to ten years.

Timing of the application can be critical – a timely application can crystallise the use of a site, making an otherwise unacceptable use lawful.

If the unlawful use ceases, the ability to apply for an LDC is lost.

Why get a Lawful Development Certificate

An LDC can be an extremely useful planning tool to regularise the situation in the following instances:

  1. Avoid Enforcement Action

    Should you find yourself in the position of having used land for a certain purpose without planning permission, an LDC can prevent your LPA from trying to take enforcement action later. An LDC proves that the building or land has been in continuous use for the required amount of time and avoids any unnecessary notices.

  1. Easing Property Transactions

    An LDC often proves essential when trying to sell a property in long-term use without formal planning permission. A prudent purchaser will not be willing to invest until there is formal documentation for the lawful planning use. LPAs are often unwilling to agree what the existing lawful use of a site is without such an application being made, which can stall sales negotiations later. The planning history of a site can often be complex, so having a LDC in place clarifies the planning status of a site for both the LPA and prospective purchasers.

  1. Adding Value

    The certificate is a benchmark for the future use of the site and may allow an intensification of use without the need for an additional planning application. An LDC cannot be conditioned by the LPA and it is of no consequence if the lawful use is contrary to current planning policy and would not normally be granted planning permission. Once an LDC is in place, it can be used as a fall-back position to ‘trade’ for another more acceptable use in planning policy terms – a very handy tool when negotiating with the LPA. They are used as a starting point against which any future planning applications on the site must be judged.

  2. Buying time

    An LDC application can also be used to confirm that a planning permission has been implemented. This is useful where the proposed use cannot immediately commence but some works can be undertaken that are sufficient to protect the planning permission in perpetuity. Typically, a planning permission must be implemented within three years and where consent is about to expire, an LDC is highly advisable to avoid disputes with the LPA in due course. It also confirms to a prospective purchaser that the planning permission has been lawfully implemented.

Assessing your existing Lawful Development Certificate

Unfortunately, in some cases an existing LDC may not maximise the value of the land. A thorough analysis of the planning history is essential when compiling an LDC application to ensure that what is granted does not end up being restrictive later.

Curtilages and access ways are often missed so a further, more detailed application could increase the area of land to the lawful use and hence increase the value of the site.

Do you need a Planning Consultant or a Solicitor for a Lawful Development Certificate?

The detailed planning history analysis, the planning strategy, the compilation of the LDC application and negotiations with the LPA is most definitely the expertise of a planning consultant, and solicitors agree.

A Statutory Declaration is usually required as part of the LDC planning application submission and this must be witnessed by a solicitor. Where a solicitor is needed, we can make trusted recommendations.

We work closely with solicitors, particularly for property transactions, where our advice compliments their service and adds significant value. Planning consultants save time and costs for clients to achieve the right outcome in the most effective way.

Bell Cornwell’s Lawful Development Certificates

Here are but a few examples of successful LDC applications Bell Cornwell have achieved for our clients:

Basingstoke and Deane – Conformation of the lawful use of a large parcel of land for residential amenity and garden purposes as well as the retention of agricultural outbuildings for domestic use.

Buckinghamshire Council – Confirmation of the lawful use of land as residential garden opposed where it had previously been designated as agricultural.

Cornwall Council – Confirmation of lawful use of land as residential where a caravan has been in continuous use on countryside land previously in agricultural use.

East Devon District Council – Confirmation of lawful mixed use of land and buildings for residential use, caravan storage and B8 storage on countryside land previously in agricultural use.

East Hampshire – The removal of an agricultural tie to confirm the lawful use and occupation of a dwelling. Where it had been in breach of an agricultural occupancy condition dating back to 1949, it can now be sold on the open market.

Hart District Council – Confirmation of lawfulness of office and B8 storage use on agricultural land and buildings together with access and curtilage in the countryside.

Hertsmere – The lawful use of an existing annexe as a separate dwellinghouse has been confirmed with an LDC.

Horsham District Council – Confirmation of lawful use of two separate dwellings for caravan storage, B2 workshops and mixed-use storage and retail use on an old nursery site in the countryside.

Harrow London Borough Council – Confirmation of lawfulness for operational development and building of a mezzanine floor in a commercial building in breach of conditions.

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – Confirmation of lawful implementation of an amalgamation of two separate dwellings into one in a listed building by proving the carrying out of a material start to the approved works.

Teignbridge District Council – Secured the lawful use of land for leisure activity on behalf of an outdoor pursuits company avoiding a planning application which could have imposed strict conditions regarding operating hours and types of activity.

Waverley Borough Council – Expansion of mixed commercial use curtilage and access way on land previously subject to a limited LDC on a smaller site in the Green Belt and ANOB.

Westminster City Council – Confirmation of lawful use of a property as a single dwelling following the amalgamation of three separate properties into one dwelling.

In all these examples the use or development was contrary to local planning policy and so would not have otherwise been granted planning permission or would have been complex or more costly to achieve planning permission for.

If you need assistance with an LDC and would like further advice, please get in touch.

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