You might not think much about the section of an application form that deals with Ownership Certificates (which you are legally required to complete, by the way), but it’s important that you complete this correctly to ensure you’ve ‘served’ the right notice and informed the right people. You don’t need to own a site to submit a planning application, but you must inform the persons who do, or those who have an interest in your proposals. If you get this wrong, the worst case scenario would be an invalid planning permission. To lessen the chances of this, let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
What’s an Owner?
This might seem like a simple one, but the ‘owner’ is not necessarily the same as the ‘applicant’. An owner is someone who owns a site through a freehold interest or has an unexpired lease that still has at least seven years left to run.
There can be more than one owner of a site (e.g. landlords, property management companies, head lesses, sub tenants or agricultural tenants) and there can also be unknown owners; i.e. there’s no record of any ownership on Land Registry documents.
So, check your deeds and Land Registry records in the first instance. Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s) generally view Land Registry records as the definitive confirmation of ownership and site boundaries; if someone queries your information or there’s a dispute over ownership, make sure you have these to rely on. It’s your legal responsibility to resolve this, not the LPA’s.
There are four types of Certificate which can accompany an application. You can only submit one, so think carefully about which one is relevant to your situation when you are completing the forms:
Certificate A – complete this if you own the site.
Certificate B – complete this if you, and other people that you know, own or have an interest in the site. You’ll have to serve notice on these other parties.
Certificate C– complete this if other people own the site but you’re not sure of all their names and addresses. You’ll have to serve notice on the owners that you do know, but also publish a notice in the local paper to notify the others that you don’t.
Certificate D – complete this one if you don’t own the site and you don’t know the names and addresses of any other owners and there is no record of anyone else owning the site. This is usually done when there is unregistered land within the application site boundaries. As with Certificate C this also requires the publishing of a notice in a local paper before you submit your application.
There are a few instances where it’s easy to get caught out…
- If your red-line plan even slightly encroaches over or under someone else’s land – roof eaves, gutters, foundations etc, then you should serve notice on them;
- If you have entered into a legal option or agreement to develop on someone else’s land but don’t actually own it then you will have to serve notice on them unless you agree to submit the application as joint applicants;
- If the owner of the land is a Limited Company and you as a Director or shareholder of that company separately submit an application, you must serve notice on the Limited Company (it’s a separate legal entity). So this will not be a Certificate A scenario;
- If the applicant is a lessee, then the correct notice needs to be served on the freehold owner and any other head lesses (remember the seven-year lease rule). This should be done 21 days before the application is submitted. Conversely, if the applicant is the freeholder but the site also has lesses that have a minimum unexpired seven-year lease, then this is also not a Certificate A scenario and an alternative notice must be served, again 21 days pre-submission;
- If the applicant, be it an individual or a business, is the owner of the site but uses an alternative business or trading name, then ensure that the application form references both. So for example you could use either ‘Joe Bloggs’ trading as ‘Joe Blogs Inc’ or ‘JB Limited’ on behalf of ‘Joe Blogs Limited’.
No process is perfect and mistakes can easily happen with the completion of the Certificates. But don’t worry, there is generally a solution.
If you realise that a mistake has been made during the course of an application, let the case officer know as quickly as possible – it’s down to their discretion as to how this is dealt with. The worst-case scenario is that the LPA de-registers the application and you have to re-start the process entirely, serving the correct notice. Best-case is that the case officer delays determination of the application whilst you serve the appropriate notice, possibly involving a three-six week stall. If this is a Certificate B scenario then you should only be looking at a further 21 days consultation period, but this might stretch to six weeks if you have to issue Certificate C or D (21 days for the notice in the local paper, 21 days for the LPA consultation period).
Be aware that as the LPA has to publicise a new notice this may give objectors another opportunity to object to an application, although they can be a bit more circumspect in terms of how they publicise this, given that it’s only a procedural issue.
The nightmare outcome is if an LPA determines an application that has relied upon the wrong Certificate. This would result in an invalid permission that would be at real risk of being quashed through a Judicial Review, if spotted by an aggrieved third party.
Things to remember…
- Check your site ownership as early as possible. Identify what, if anything, needs to be done in terms of tracking down and notifying other potential landowners.
- If there are any discrepancies in land ownership that the Land Registry can’t clarify, get your solicitors to investigate and explore the potential to register the land in your name.
- Formally serve a written notice on owners and other people with an interest in the site. You can’t just tell them verbally, it must be by letter or email. Provide them with a copy of the Certificate at a minimum, and offer to supply a copy of the application package. Ideally, this should be done 21 days before submission.
- If you have to rely on Certificates C or D, you must advertise for any landowners of the site via a newspaper publication for 21 days prior to submission of your application. You will need to provide the LPA with a copy of this notice and the publication, so make sure these are to hand as you assemble your submission.
- Finally – if you know you’ve made a mistake, inform your case officer asap. They’re more likely to help if you’re honest from the outset, and it saves everyone time and costs in the long-run if the application can get back on track and remain valid.