28 September 2023

Usually, when one thinks of a building, one would imagine the usual bricks and mortar which we have all become accustomed to.

Many would be surprised to learn that the Town and County Planning Act 1990 does not at any time define what a building is in respect of planning permission.

At section 57(1) of the act, it states that planning permission is required for the “carrying out of any development on the land”, with the definition of “development” including the carrying out of “building operations”.

In order to determine whether something constitutes building operations, we must consider first whether there is a building, and whether the erection of the said building is a building operation.

The leading case in answering the question of “what constitutes a building?” is Cardiff Rating Authority and Cardiff Assessment Committee v. Guest Keen and Baldwins Iron and Steel Co Ltd where three criteria were identified for a building. Those are:

  1. The size (a building is usually something that is constructed on site, rather than being brought on site ready-made);
  2. Permanence; and
  3. Physical attachment to the ground.

With that being said, it is not necessary to achieve all three criteria. A structure does not need to be permanently fixed to the ground to be held as a building if it is clear that the intention is for the construction to be a permanent feature.

In some cases, shipping containers have been held to be buildings due to them being fully equipped with the essential facilities required for normal day to day living. This differs to circumstances where shipping containers have been placed on land with the intention of being used as temporary storage.

As is the case with planning law, it often boils down to the intention of the person and the use to which they have put the structure.

Why is it important to determine what a building is?

Simply, in terms of making an application for a lawful use certificate, there are two different criteria where the time constraints are different.

When the application for a lawful use certificate relates to a building, the time period which must be proved is 4 years. In all other circumstances, the applicant must be able to show 10 years of continuous use in breach of planning regulations.

If a structure has been used as a building for a period of 4 years the local authority is no longer able to enforce against that use.

Interestingly, caravans, which are nearly always equipped for living, do not fall under the category of buildings due to the fact that they are a movable structure which is specifically designed to be moved.

If you have been served with an enforcement notice from the local authority, please get in touch so that we can discuss your options with you. Alternatively, if you believe that you meet the criteria to make an application for lawful use, please get in touch with your information so that we can prepare the application for you. Contact Rachael Webber on 01935 846050