Do I Need a Certificate of Lawful Development or Use?

House at Beltane Road Wimbledon

FORM Design Group’s Planning Partner Paul Uttley explains why having a Lawful Development Certificate is a wise precaution when starting a new project

A Certificate of Lawful Development or Use (also known as a Lawful Development Certificate or Certificate of Lawfulness) is a legal document issued by your local planning authority which confirms that an existing or proposed development or use is lawful and complies with planning regulations.

A lawful development certificate isn’t a legal requirement, but they are useful in situations where there may be uncertainty or dispute regarding the planning status of a development or the use of the land or property, either raised by the local planning authority or more commonly potential purchasers.

These days potential house buyers are very risk-averse and if they, or their solicitors, see that a house has been extended they may want to see proof that the extension meets the rules in place at the time or is immune from enforcement.

In many cases where you are thinking of using your Permitted Development Rights, it may be prudent to submit an application prior to undertaking the work. This means you’ve got documentation from your local authority that your planned project meets legal requirements without needing to submit a full planning application – so they’re an asset when it comes to selling.

You can apply retrospectively, but this is a bit more risky.

Types of Certificate of Lawful Development

There are two types of Certificates of Lawful Development:

1) Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development: This certificate confirms that the existing use of a property or a particular development on the property is lawful. It proves that the use or development has been in place for a certain period (usually 4 or 10 years, depending on the circumstances) without any enforcement action taken by the local planning authority.

2) Certificate of Lawful Proposed Use or Development: This certificate confirms that a proposed development on a property would be lawful if carried out in accordance with the submitted plans. It provides assurance that the proposed development does not require planning permission because it falls under the category of permitted development rights or meets specific criteria outlined in planning regulations.

Paul Uttley | FORM Design Group Planning Director
It may be prudent to submit an application prior to undertaking the work. This means you’ve got documentation from your local authority that your planned project meets legal requirements without needing to submit a full planning application – so they’re an asset when it comes to selling.

Paul Uttley, BSc (Hons) DipTP MRTPI

To obtain a Certificate of Lawful Development, an application needs to be submitted to the local planning authority, accompanied by the necessary supporting documentation and evidence.

The application process typically involves providing detailed information about the existing or proposed development or use, such as plans, photographs, and any relevant documentation that establishes the development’s history.

Once your application has been submitted, you can expect to wait up to 8 weeks for a decision. If by this time limit a decision hasn’t been reached, or if your application is rejected you can make an appeal.

There are several potential issues that can arise in relation to a Certificate of Lawful Use or Development.  Common ones include;

Insufficient evidence: To obtain a Certificate of Lawfulness, you need to provide adequate evidence to support your claim. This evidence may include documents, photographs, affidavits or other proof that demonstrates the existing or proposed use or development meets the necessary criteria. If the evidence is insufficient or incomplete, the local planning authority may reject your application.

Disagreement with the local planning authority: The local planning authority has the final say in determining whether a development or use is lawful or not. If there is a disagreement between you and the authority it may lead to delays or an appeal.

Change in planning regulations: Planning regulations and policies can change over time. If there have been amendments to the regulations since the development took place or was proposed, it may affect the eligibility for a Certificate of Lawful Development. It’s important to ensure that the development complies with the current regulations and seek professional advice if there are any uncertainties.

Enforcement action: If a development is found to be unlawful or does not meet the criteria for a certificate, it could leave the development vulnerable to potential enforcement measures.    This could involve requiring the development to be modified or even demolished or the use to be ceased.  Hence it is important to provide a robust case and in this respect seek professional advice.

Legal challenges: In some cases, neighbours or other parties may challenge the granting of a Certificate of Lawful Development. They may dispute the legality of the development. Challenges can lead to delays and additional costs, requiring you to provide further evidence and arguments to defend the lawfulness of the development or use.

So in conclusion, whilst a Certificate of  Lawfulness is beneficial and may even be necessary, there are several factors which need to be taken into consideration and hurdles which may need to be overcome, so we would always recommend seeking professional advice.