Is digging a trench or doing other minor works sufficient to save a planning permission from expiring?

United Kingdom
The point has come before the courts on various occasions and did so again in the case of R v Arfon Borough Council, ex p Walton Commercial Group Ltd (1997). The decision reaffirms a line of earlier decisions that carrying out minor works will not save a planning permission if the works are in breach of the conditions of that planning permission and/or are carried out with no genuine intention to develop.

An alternative approach is to apply for the permission to be renewed before it expires or apply to vary the relevant time limit condition. The advantage of this is that there is less scope for a refusal of such applications because the planning authority should renew a planning permission unless relevant circumstances have changed since the original permission in such a way to dictate otherwise.

The Difference Between Alteration and Demolition

Conservation area consent is needed to demolish a building in a conservation area but is not needed to alter it or to extend it. But at what point do works of alteration amount to demolition works?

This distinction was at the heart of the House of Lords' decision in Shimizu (UK) Limited v Westminster City Council (1997) and although the case arose out of a claim for compensation for refusing listed building consent it is of particular relevance in conservation areas.

It is, of course, difficult if not impossible to draw a rigid distinction between alteration and demolition unless demolition is to mean pulling down the whole of the building. The court, quite understandably, refused to go that far preferring instead to say that it must be a question of fact in each case. The judgement does suggest, however, that even if works of alteration do involve an element of demolition (as will very often be the case), conservation area consent will not necessarily be required on that basis. In the Shimizu case it was the removal of chimney breasts and stacks that was at issue.