How long does planning permission last?

Key Information
  • The maximum time you may take before you need to implement planning permission is three years for full permission and five years for outline permission.
  • You only need to implement the "material operations" to end the time limit, there is no time limit on when the project needs to be finished.
  • You don't need to hire a construction team to implement planning permission, you can implement it on your own, with actions such as the digging of a trench to contain the foundations, or part of the foundations, of a building.

If you own a property with planning permission, have bought a piece of land that comes with planning permission, or are thinking of applying for planning permission, you may be wondering: How long does it last? Is there a date the project has to be finished by? How do different application types affect how long it may last? Can anything be done to extend planning permission? What are the risks of attempting to extend planning?

This article aims to answer these questions and provide a broad outline of what is a complex issue, to give you the best possible chance of lawful development and a smooth planning experience.

How long does planning permission last?

Before researching the details of planning it's worth noting not all development projects require planning permission under permitted development rights. Read our Addland on permitted development to discover what projects can be pursued using these rights and some of the risks that come with it. 

Usually planning permission lasts for three years. This is three years from the time of approval to the date you need to start work on your proposal. If work has not commenced within the 3-year time frame, your planning will expire, and you lose your right to undertake work.

If you have bought a plot of land or building with the benefit of planning permission you will need to check what date the local planning authority granted planning, as it is the time of approval not the date of your purchase that affects the date that the permission will expire.

It's important to remember there is no set date by which the project has to be finished. The three-year time limit is solely from the time the local authority grants permission to the commencement of development; once the permission has been deemed ‘implemented’ there is no longer an expiry date on the permission.

If you have not yet applied for permission but are thinking of submitting an application for approval, read the Addland guide on how to apply for planning permission. The guide offers pre-application advice on the finer details of the planning procedure, and an in-depth understanding of associated planning fees, details of the planning application form and the time frames of the decision-making process.

How long does each type of planning permission last?

If you have made an application, the type of permission you have been granted will affect how long you actually have to commence work on your project.

Full Planning Permission
Full planning permission means you have submitted all the details of the project for consideration and it has been accepted by the planning committee. From this point, you then have three years to implement the planning permission. There are rare exceptions to this rule, but unless they have been clearly stated in the letter of approval given after the planning decision, you will have three years to commence works. 

Outline Planning Permission
Whilst full planning permission makes up the vast majority of applications. Outline applications, mostly used for large-scale development projects, essentially ask the local authority to agree to the overall idea of your project. You then have three years to act, but instead of implementing works, you need to submit the second half of the application, the reserved matters application. Following the approval of the reserved matters, you have another two years before the permission has to be implemented, giving a five-year cut-off to implement a grant of outline planning permission.

Read the Addland guide to the differences between full and outline planning permission for more details on the types of applications, to get you through to the approval stage and on to the building stage of the process.

Can planning permission be extended?

Until 2013 you were able to apply for renewal if your time had run out. Since then, if you are approaching the time by which you need to implement planning (3 years for full consent, 5 years for outline permission), there is no way to extend or renew your application. From here, you have two options:

  1. Put in a new application
  2. Stop your permission from expiring

As there is no longer a renewal option, putting in a new application means letting your planning permission expire and beginning from square one with the planning process. The process is the same as the first time, but you will already have drawings, surveys and additional information done, so whilst there is no guarantee that you will get it again the application should be a lot simpler than the first time.

You will also have to check that your LPA has not made any changes to their planning policy since your last application. If they have made changes, you may have to alter your plans to fit the current guidance, or a planning officer may reject your application. Read the Addland guide on the national planning policy framework to see how the top-down structure affects local planning policy. 

The second option is to keep your planning permission alive by implementing planning permission. Planning is deemed to be "implemented" by the planning committee on the earliest date on which any "material operation" comprised in the development begins to be carried out, and can be implemented either by hiring a construction crew or by undertaking the action yourself. 

A “material operation” is defined in the Town and Country Planning Act as:

  • Any work of construction in the course of the erection of a building
  • Any work in the demolition of buildings
  • The digging of a trench which is to contain the foundations, or part of the foundations, of a building
  • The laying of any underground main or pipe to the foundations, or part of the foundations of a building or to any such trench as is mentioned in paragraph
  • Any operation in the course of laying out or constructing a road or part of a road
  • Any change in the use of any land which constitutes material development

For further government guidance on what constitutes "material operations" on construction sites, view the town and country planning act.

Risks of implementing planning to keep the application alive

If you wish to implement planning to avoid it expiring, with or without the help of a construction team, there are some things to consider to make sure you do it right.

First, the place you start work needs to agree with the plans. In order for the material operations to be deemed implemented, work needs to be in exactly the right place. For instance, digging an area forming the foundations is a common action and counts as a “material operation”, but will only count as the implementation of planning permission by the planning committee if the area of digging is in the exact place drawn up in the plans. If you are unsure if your attempt at action has been enough to implement planning permission check with your local planning authority.

Second, make sure your “material operations” satisfy any pre-commencement condition you may be bound by, to avoid unauthorised development. In your planning approval notice, in your approval letter, the grant of planning permission will be approved either “unconditionally” or “subject to conditions”. This may include actions to be implemented prior to the commencement of “material operations”, such as submitting a construction management plan.

To guarantee the correct implementation of “material operations”, any pre-commencement planning condition needs to be approved (discharged) by your local authority. After the approval of conditions, you may implement material operations.

Visit the planning portal for more information on planning conditions. 

Addland
Published: 02 August 2022
Last updated: 31 October 2022

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