Planning permissions granted do not have infinite duration and, to avoid the lapse of the permission, it is necessary to commence development work (a ‘material operation’ in the terms used in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) within the time limit set down. Whether there has been a material operation or not will be decided as a matter of fact and has been the subject of considerable argument in the courts over the years.
A recent case gave guidance on the meaning of ‘material operation’. A developer obtained planning permission for a hotel and community and leisure facilities, together with the related infrastructure. The permission was granted in 1993 and would lapse in January 2004 unless material development had commenced. By the time the lapse date had arrived, the only works carried out by the developer had been the partial creation of an access road using a process which forms a basis for a permanent road surface. This was not wholly consistent with the road permitted under the planning permission. Further work would be needed to make the access road comply with the terms specified in the permission.
In spite of the fact that the road was only partially compliant with the specification, the court ruled that it was a material operation for the purposes of keeping the planning permission alive.