Lawful Development Certificate - Existing

Lawful development certificate for an existing use or operation or activity in breach of a planning condition

A Lawful Development Certificate will be required to establish whether an existing use of a building or land, or some operations which are carried out in, on, over or under land, are deemed to be lawful. Examples of when an application for a Lawful Development Certificate should be made includes:

  • When planning enforcement action is taken by us and you believe it is immune from enforcement action because the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed;
  • When you discover, in the course of the sale of the land, that planning permission has never been granted, and you need to show a perspective purchaser that no enforcement action can be taken by us.

An application for a Lawful Development Certificate 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

There are rolling time limits within which we can take planning enforcement action against breaches of planning control. The time limits are as follows:

  1. Four years for building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land without planning permission;
  2. Four years for the change of use of a building, or part of a building, to use as a single dwelling house;
  3. 10 years for all other developments.

Once these time limits have been passed, the development becomes lawful, in planning terms and therefore, is immune from enforcement action.

What is a Lawful Development Certificate?

A Lawful Development Certificate is a legal document stating lawfulness of a past, present, or future development. If granted by us, the certificate means that enforcement action cannot be carried out against the development. The merits of the use, operation or activity in the application are not relevant as this is not an application for planning permission. The issue of the certificate depends entirely on factual evidence about the history and planning status of the building or other land and the interpretation of any planning law or judicial authority. The responsibility is on you to provide sufficient evidence to support the application in order to demonstrate why you consider the existing use, operation or activity is deemed to be lawful. We may, through the process of determining the Certificate, request for additional information or seek clarification on some of the evidence submitted to us.

A certificate for an existing operation or activity will specify the area of land included in the certificate and describe the precise nature of use, operation or activity which is lawful. The certificate will give the reason for determining the use or operation to be lawful and specify the date of the application for the certificate. It is important to note that the Certificate is not a planning permission.


It is an offence to provide false, misleading or to withhold information from us when submitting a Lawful Development Certificate. We could revoke, at any time, a certificate issued as a result of false or misleading information.

To submit a Lawful Development Certificate (Existing) application, you can apply online at the Planning Portal or you can download the application form below:

Information required to be submitted for a lawful development certificate – existing use are set out below:

To process an application we require the information detailed in the National Requirements to be submitted with the application. The period for deciding the application cannot start until all the information has been received.

Please make sure you submit one original copy of the application form, together with one original copy of the plans and supporting information. The fee information for the application can be found on our planning application fees and how to pay page.

You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download these documents. If you don’t have it you can download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free.