Bill’s ‘threat’ to housing market

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LAWYERS are warning that new powers to effectively abolish time limits on planning enforcement action could bring ‘uncertainty and chaos’ to the property market.

The government has amended the Localism Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords to remove ‘concealment by inactivity’ as a reason to allow councils to re-start the clock on enforcement.

But in the Law Society’s view, other ways to re-start planning enforcement action remain a threat to innocent purchasers.

The Law Society believes that failing to report a breach of planning law would be a concealment and would allow the local authority to take enforcement action. The Localism Bill would make purchasers liable where the breach had been concealed by their vendor or anyone else.

The Law Society was concerned that this could have a chilling effect on some parts of the property market since, without the certainty that past mistakes could no longer be subject to enforcement action after the limitation period, purchasers would be less willing to buy and lenders less willing to lend.

Law Society president John Wotton welcomed the amendments which remove inaction as a concealment.

He said: “We are very pleased that the Department for Communities and Local Government has listened to our concerns.”

But he added the innocent purchaser is still at risk: “If there has been concealment in the past, the local authority can still restart the clock and enforce outside the normal time limits.”

The Law Society believes the provision is unnecessary and will be pressing amendments it has already proposed.

The next stage of the Localism Bill is due to take place on September 5 when it is due to enter the report stage, prior to third reading, in the House of Lords.

The Localism Bill is intended to hand planning powers to local communities to tackle abuses of the planning system and the abolition of centrally determined housing targets.