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Lawful Development Certificates: all you need to know

Sometimes, permitted development can sound a little too good to be true. If you’re thinking of adding a large extension to the rear of your home, or purchasing a property that’s just had an extensive loft conversion, the cynic in you might believe that it is too good to be true and that these works or plans are, in fact, unlawful.

So, how can you be sure? This is where Lawful Development Certificates (LDCs) come in. These are special awards you can gain to prove that a pre-existing development is indeed lawful, or that a proposed development would be lawful without planning permission. Here’s just about everything you need to know about them…

There are two kinds

The first thing you need to know  is that there are two kinds of LDCs, both of which are granted by local planning authorities. They either confirm that “an existing use of land, or some operational development, or some activity being carried out in breach of a planning condition is lawful for planning purposes” or that a proposed use or change of operation would be lawful for planning purposes.

When you might want one

There are many cases where you might want to apply for a LDC, or at least view one. The most obvious would be if you’re considering carrying out a large scale home improvement such as a conversion or extension under the remit of permitted development. In these cases getting a proposed certificate of lawfulness will give you reassurance that the changes you are going to make to your home are lawful, and you won’t get any grief from the planning office at a later date.

You might also want to request to see one, or ask someone to apply for one if you’re thinking of purchasing a property. Finding out that a building has had unlawful works carried out on it after purchase could have major implications for you, affecting important aspects of your mortgage as well as the overall property value.

How to get one

To get a certificate of lawful development you need to make an application for one to your local planning authority, which you can do through the Planning Portal website. With the application form you will need to submit four copies of drawings of the existing and/or proposed development, as well as a site location plan and pay the fee. If this sounds complicated, you may want to consider enlisting the help of an agent who specialises in Lawful Development Certificates to complete the application on your behalf.

Once this has been completed, your local authority will assign an official to assess your application, make an inspection visit and check the property’s planning history. Assuming all is above board you will be granted a LDC within eight weeks.

What happens if you get refused

If your application is rejected, your first port of call is to discuss your options with the planning officer who dealt with your application. It could just be that you failed to fill out your application correctly, or your drawings were not to standard — in which case you may be able to apply again.

If, however, your application was correct but the development on your property has been deemed to be unlawful, or would be unlawful, then you can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. If they decide that your local authority’s decision was not well founded, you will be granted the certificate.

However, if they side with the council, then you’re in a tricky situation. If it was for a proposed development, you will now need to seek planning permission to carry out the work. If the works have already been carried out, the said building may need to be returned to its original state (for example by removing an extension) or you could face enforcement proceedings.

Don’t risk it

While the process might sound a bit complicated, you can always employ someone to help you out. It’s not compulsory to get a LDC for works that fall under permitted development rights. However, it could well buy you some peace of mind receiving the confirmation that your existing or potential home improvement is lawful, and you aren’t going to have to demolish it if it’s ever found to be unlawful.

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