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Lawful Development Certificate

Application for a Lawful Development Certificate

Town and Country Planning Act 1990; Part VII; Certificate of lawful use or development (as amended)1

Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order (England) 20152


What is a Lawful Development Certificate?

A Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) is a legal document stating the lawfulness of past, present or future building use, operations, or other matters. If granted by the Local Planning Authority (LPA), the certificate signifies that enforcement action cannot be carried out against the development referred to in the certificate. However, the certificate will not protect from enforcement action by the planning authority if the specified use is then changed ‘materially’ without a planning application for it. 

A successful application for an LDC is not a replacement for planning permission. Planning permission must still be acquired separately for any development or use which is not covered by an LDC.


When to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate 

An application for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) should be used to establish whether: 

  • An existing use of land, or some operational development, or some activity in breach of a planning condition, is lawful. 
  • A proposed use of buildings or other land, or some operations proposed to be carried out in, on, over, or under land, would be lawful. 

The use of a land is deemed lawful if: 

  • No enforcement action can be taken against the changes, whether this is a result of not requiring planning permission or because the time for enforcement has expired. 
  • The requirements of any current enforcement notice are not being violated. 

Examples of when an application for an LDC should be made: 

  • If there is a question as to whether a proposal for permitted development is legal. 
  • When planning enforcement action is taken by the Local Planning Authority and the owner believes it is immune from action because the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed. 
  • When an owner discovers, during a sale of the land, that planning permission has never been granted, and needs to show a prospective purchaser that no enforcement action can be taken by the LPA. 

An application for an LDC is also sometimes used in cases involving intensification of use where the precise nature of the existing use is difficult to describe, such as: 

  • Secondary uses 
  • Mixed uses 
  • Intensification 
  • Sub-division of the planning unit 

 

Time limits for enforcement 

The Planning and Compensation Act 1991 (section 4)3 introduced rolling time limits within which Local Planning Authorities can take planning enforcement action against breaches of planning control.  

The time limits are: 

  • Four years for building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, without planning permission. This development becomes immune from enforcement action four years after the operations are substantially completed. 
  • Four years for the change of use of a building, or part of a building, to use as a single dwelling house. Enforcement action can no longer be taken once the unauthorised use has continued for four years without any enforcement action being taken. 
  • Ten years for all other development. The ten year period runs from the date the breach of planning control was committed. 

Once these time limits have passed, the development becomes lawful, in terms of planning. 


What the applicant needs to prove 

It is up to the person applying for a Lawful Development Certificate for an existing use to show the proper evidence. This could include: 

  • Proof that any building was ‘substantially complete’ more than four years before the date of the application 
  • Proof that any use (or breach of condition) has been carried on continuously for a period of ten years (four years in the case of dwelling) 

If the Local Planning Authority has evidence, or reasonable grounds to believe, that the applicant’s claim is not correct, it may refuse a certificate. 


Information required 

Your application for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) should include the following information: 

  • Whether the application relates to: 
    • A use 
    • A building operation 
    • A condition not complied with 
  • The date that the use (or breach of condition) started, or the date on which the building was substantially complete 
  • Any use class the applicant considers to be applicable 
  • In the case of a breach of condition, details of the relevant application 
  • The reasons the applicant believes they are entitled to an LDC
  • A plan identifying the land 
  • A certificate as to the applicant’s interest (ownership, tenancy etc) in the land and any interest of any other person 
  • Any other information you deem relevant


Fees 

The fees for an application for a Lawful Development Certificate vary depending on the use, these are as follows: 

  • Existing use or operation – same as Full planning permission 
  • Existing use or operation: lawful not to comply with any condition or limitation £234 
  • Proposed use or operation – Half the normal planning fee 

For more details our fee calculator4 can help estimate the cost of your application. 


Timeline 

An application for a Lawful Development Certificate should be decided to within 8 weeks. This starts once the application has been validated by the Local Planning Authority.


What happens next? 

Applications for a Lawful Development Certificate can be carried out through our online application service5

Once a certificate is granted the use is permitted. If refused, then you may have to apply for full planning permission.

It is often helpful to discuss your proposal with your Local Planning Authority (LPA) before you send in your application – this is known as ‘pre-application advice’. Your LPA will normally have details of how to go about this on its website.


Useful resources  

Lawful development certificates - GOV.UK6 


  1. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/8/part/VII/crossheading/established-use-certificates
  2. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/595/contents/made
  3. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/34/section/4
  4. https://www.planningportal.co.uk/app/fee-calculator
  5. http://www.planningportal.co.uk/app
  6. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/lawful-development-certificates

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The Planning Portal is delivered by PortalPlanQuest Limited which is a joint venture between TerraQuest Solutions Limited and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. All content © 2022 Planning Portal.