The government has amended the Localism Bill, following Law Society warnings that a certain provision could have caused uncertainty in the property market.
The provision proposed strengthening local authorities’ powers to tackle abuses of the planning system where there had been a breach of planning control through ‘concealment by inactivity’ – meaning a failure to report it.
The provision would have allowed local authorities to pursue an enforcement order even where the limitation period has expired, and property owners would be required to remedy the breach.
The Law Society argued that this provision of the bill would make purchasers liable where the breach had been concealed not by themselves, but by the vendor or anyone else.
The Society was concerned that this could have a chilling effect on 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.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has now formally accepted the Law Society’s arguments and amended the provision regarding ‘concealment by inactivity’.
However, the bill will still allow local authorities to enforce orders outside the limitation period where a breach of planning rules has been concealed by any means other than inactivity.
Law Society President John Wotton said: ‘We are very pleased that the DCLG has listened to our concerns, but 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 Society’s preference was the deletion of the clause. It maintains its view that the provision is unnecessary and will be pressing for amendments it has already proposed to protect innocent purchasers.’ Read the amended bill.