Business Premises Closures: Potential COVID-19 Impact on Immunity from Planning Enforcement Action

May 7, 2020

 

With many business premises having been closed for some time already due to the COVID-19 lockdown – and with no end currently in sight- Sarah Price considers the impact of closures on the required periods for planning enforcement immunity.

It’s a fundamental part of our work as commercial property solicitors when investigating a property – whether acting for buyers, prospective tenants or lenders – to establish whether a property has planning permission for its use. Very often, there is no planning permission for the use in place but any breach of planning control is no longer enforceable. In short, to be immune from enforcement the breach must continue for at least 4 years from the date of the breach for change of use to a dwelling, and 10 years for any other change of use. After that, the use is lawful.

The use should be continuous but it would generally be accepted that business properties could close for weekends or holidays without affecting that continuity. Longer periods of closure however may be more problematic.

Commentators are highlighting a case in which ‘continuous use’ was affected by the foot and mouth crisis in the early 2000s, during which large areas of the countryside were closed. In this case (Miles v National Assembly for Wales 2007) interruption of an unlawful use for 12-18 months was enough to ‘stop the clock’ and the fact that the closure was Government-enforced was irrelevant.

It’s too soon to tell what the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on this area of law will be, but it seems likely that we will be seeing similar court cases in the future.

For more details on this or a related topic, contact Sarah Price.

 

 

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