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Retrospective Planning Permission

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

You may have heard the term ‘retrospective planning permission’, or ‘retrospective planning consent’, but what exactly does it mean and when is it appropriate?

Retrospective Planning Permission: Applying for full planning permission or listed building consent after works have either been started or completed without the requisite consents in place.

If you have made alterations to your property which would have required planning permission and you have not had approval, a local authority can request that you submit a retrospective planning application for the work that you have already carried out. This request will be made to the current owner and occupier of the relevant site and the application will be treated in the usual way. This means that just because the works have already taken place, it does not mean that permission will be granted automatically and could be refused.

It's important to note that for works requiring normal planning permission, the council has seven years by which to request retrospective consent as after this time, the window of opportunity lapses and you will no longer be subject to enforcement action. Listed Building Consent, however, has no such expiration date so whether works were undertaken two years or twenty years ago, by you or a previous owner, you will still be liable and the council could proceed against you if the works are not regularised.

When to Apply for Retrospective Planning Permission

The majority of people end up applying for retrospective consent following contact from the council, which can vary from a simple email all the way to an enforcement notice. This can be very stressful as a homeowner, but there is a straightforward process in place. Perhaps you became aware of unauthorised works at conveyancing while buying a property, in which case this is the current owner’s responsibility to sort. Or, as in the case with many of our clients, you have inherited a property with unauthorised works having been undertaken by the previous owner.

Assuming the time limit of seven years has not lapsed and/or your property is listed, then the best thing to do is to contact the local authority and/or a planning professional as soon as you become aware of the issue. Honesty and transparency go a long way and it’s important to demonstrate to the council that you are willing to do what it takes to make it right.

Most of the time, this involves identifying exactly what works were undertaken, what the impact of these works were, and why they should be granted consent – just as with any typical application for proposed works. These will require existing and proposed drawings, a planning statement, and if your property is historic or listed, a heritage statement. The application will then go through the consultation period before a decision is reached. Assuming that consent is granted, then the works are now regularised and can remain in place.

What Happens if Your Application is Refused

While it’s true that the majority of retrospective applications are the result of honest mistakes, it is possible for the application to be refused, especially in the case of historic buildings if it is decided by the local authority that the works have resulted in harm to its significance. In cases of refusal, the main penalty for breaching planning permission is an enforcement notice, which could require you to undo all of the unauthorised works at your expense. Failure to do so can result in a hefty fine or, in worse cases, formal prosecution and even a stint in prison depending on the severity of the situation.

As with any other planning application, you do have the right to appeal the council’s decision for retrospective applications, too. Generally speaking, councils should refrain from serving enforcement notices while an active appeal is in place, but this is not a requirement.

If you’d like to hear more on retrospective consent, then check out Episode 2 of our new podcast, Heritage Happy Hour, where we delve into specific case studies and talk all things planning.


At Blue Willow Heritage, we provide expert advice on planning, the historic environment and conservation works to historic buildings. If you need support managing your restoration projects or heritage assets then Blue Willow Heritage can help. If you would like to discuss your project or simply need some impartial, no-obligation advice, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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