Regular readers will know that I chair the Law Society's Planning and Environmental Law Committee and that we have been lobbying on the provisions in the Localism Bill about concealed breaches of planning control. I and other members of the Committee had a number of meetings with officials. We also briefed members of both Houses and I am delighted to say that the Government has listened to what we have said and has written confirming that they see the force of our arguments. The Law Society press release explains the position. The Government has made amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords.
However, the amendments do not go far enough, so we are continuing to lobby because it appears that the innocent purchaser is still at risk.
My personal view is that the provision causes more problems than it solves. Indeed, the problem which it addresses is minute - a breach which goes unenforced for 4 (or 10) years is rarely going to have caused any difficulties. And the Supreme Court decision in the Welwyn Hatfield case makes it clear that dishonesty in the planning application will disentitle the applicant from relying on limitation periods. I also question whether this is consistent with the red-tape initiative - that's the one about reducing the regulatory burden.
The clause will make old concealed breaches susceptible to enforcement and this will in turn lead to criminal liability if the enforcement notice is not complied with. There's an argument that that would be a breach of the Human Rights Act by retrospectively making a state of affairs which became lawful when the 4/10 year period expired into a criminal offence. It's certainly a problem if someone has bought the property in the meantime.