Every year I meet a few self-builders who have managed to build their dream home on a site where it defies belief that planning was granted, often in the open countryside, or by a river or in some other beautiful remote spot.
Often they have achieved their dream thanks to a loophole in the planning system known as the ‘four year rule’, whereby a breach of planning policy becomes immune from enforcement action by the local authority after a period of four years (ten years for a change of use).
This means that an old caravan or mobile home that has somehow become a permanent building, or a small dwelling constructed without consent, can qualify for a certificate of lawful use or development providing it has managed to remain under the radar of the local authority enforcement officers for four years (ten in the case of a change of use). Once the use as a dwelling is legally established an application can be made to demolish and replace with a brand new dwelling. The new dwelling must comply with the local planning policies for replacement dwellings, but often this allows a significant enlargement and the result can be a fantastic new home in an enviable location.
Understandably some see this loophole as unfair, and there have been some highly publicised abuses, some of which have backfired horribly on the owners (one ended up with a house created from a barn, but with no windows), but it has meant an amazing opportunity for some people to obtain a plot for a fraction of market value. I see these people as brave in general, and willing to take a risk. Others dislike what they see as rule breakers and want to penalise them.
Whatever you think of it, this loophole is now under threat under the proposed new Localism Bill which will remove the four and ten year rule. This may be well intended, but as the Law Society points out (lawsocietymedia.org.uk), it could have significant unexpected affects on many homeowners and almost all vendors that have self-built, or undertaken any alterations to the exterior of their home.
Many small breaches of planning rules are made by homeowners, and providing four years pass, they are currently immune from enforcement and the property can be sold on, and the new owners have no fear of having to alter or demolish what they have paid for.
Under the proposed localism bill, this would not be the case, so there would be a new onus on homebuyers to check that every last detail of a property, from construction through to every external alteration or improvement, has been rubber stamped by the local authority and complies with the planning rules. If not, they could face substantial costs if there is later found to be a breach and at worst, may find they have to demolish all or part of their home.