Understand planning permission in this helpful guide

Understand planning permission in this helpful guide. We detail the types of projects that need planning permission and what happens when you apply.

A guide to getting planning permission

In essence, the planning system is designed to safeguard the environment and what planners call ‘amenity', while allowing development where it is desirable and giving individuals the freedom, within reason, to make changes to their properties.

The need to balance these different (and sometimes conflicting) interests, and to deal with a wide variety of circumstances, means that the system is bound to be complex and can seem intimidating.

However, if you have a pet project you've been putting off for fear of planning problems, don't despair! You may be surprised to learn that, while you need permission from your local council to carry out major works, many minor ones are exempt. And if permission is required, it is usually quite straightforward to obtain, provided you follow the correct procedures.

This guide gives a brief introduction to the planning system in England and Wales (Scotland's is broadly similar). It includes a step-by-step checklist, to make applying for planning permission easy.

For further information, try your local library, or consult the wealth of planning guidance available on the internet. Bear in mind that planning law is constantly evolving and the terminology used changes frequently.

**When you don't need planning permission...
House owners enjoy what are known as permitted development rights (often referred to simply as ‘permitted rights'), under which certain changes and additions can be made without planning permission. Conservatories and loft conversions often fall into this category. For details of current permitted rights, visit www.planningportal.gov.uk

Under permitted rights, a house can generally be extended without planning permission, subject to restrictions on height and volume and certain other conditions. However, if the property is located in a Conservation Area, a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads, permission may be required to carry out work that, in other areas, would be covered by permitted rights.

Note that owners of flats and maisonettes have no such rights; they must obtain planning permission to carry out any work that materially changes the building's external appearance. (This does not include simple redecoration.)

Even if your project appears to fall within permitted rights, it is wise to check with your council before proceeding, as some permitted rights may have been cancelled by means of an Article 4 direction. Such directions are issued when the character of an area of acknowledged significance (such as a conservation area) might be endangered by development.

And, of course, do talk to your neighbours about any work you intend to carry out that may affect them.

**And when you do...
Some of the common types of project needing planning permission are:

  • Dividing a house so that part of it can be used as a separate dwelling (for example, a self-contained flat or granny annexe), or for business/commercial purposes
  • Using a building or caravan in your garden as a separate dwelling
  • Building a house in your garden
  • Changing a building's use. This includes everything from converting a garage into living accommodation to converting a barn, shop or pub into a home
  • Anything that contravenes the terms of the original planning permission. For example, in some areas, a condition may have been imposed to prevent fences being erected in front gardens

Whatever the type of work you want to undertake, you will need planning permission if:

  • It might obstruct the view of road users It would necessitate a new or wider access to a trunk or classified road
  • There are many other circumstances in which planning permission may be required; in some cases, you may even need it before you can install a satellite dish. It is always worth checking with your council before carrying out any work.
  • If you want to maximise the future market value of your property, bear in mind that planning permission can be a good way of adding significant value at relatively low cost.

**Types of planning permission
There are two kinds of planning permission, detailed (or full), valid for five years from the date of issue, and outline, valid for three years.

In most circumstances, you should apply for detailed permission, but it may be sensible to go for outline if, for example, you are considering building a house in your garden and want to test the water before submitting comprehensive plans.

**Applying for planning permission
Depending on the scale and complexity of your project, you may want to handle both the design and the administrative aspects yourself. Alternatively, you can employ an architect or builder to advise on design and draw up plans, while you take care of the form filling. Or you can commission a planning consultant to handle the whole process for you.

If you decide to employ someone, make sure you get several estimates, based on a clear brief. Both parties must agree exactly what is included and expected right from the start.

Your step by step checklist

Should you decide to go it alone, here's what you need to do:

  1. Check with your council whether your project requires planning permission.

  2. Discuss your intentions with the council's planning department. They can tell you whether your proposals conform to the development plans for your area, inform you of any associated design guidance and advise you whether to apply for detailed or outline permission. Making slight changes to your plans at this early stage may save aggravation, expense and disappointment later.

  3. Submit a formal application, by post or online. This will consist of an application form, a plan of the site and a copy of drawings showing the proposed work. The planning department will supply the application form and advise you of the fee payable and the drawings required.

  4. Discuss your plans with your neighbours. It can cause ill feeling if the first they hear of your intention to build an extension close to their property is a letter from the council. Indeed, if your neighbours are likely to be significantly affected by your proposals, talk to them before submitting your application; minor changes may be all that is necessary to get them on your side.

Over to the planners

  1. Within a matter of days, your application should be acknowledged and placed on the Planning Register, where it will be available for public inspection.

  2. The planning department will write to your neighbours inviting them to comment on your application. In some cases, a notice is put up on or near the site. Some applications are also advertised in local newspapers.

  3. The council may consult other organisations - the highway authority, for example. You are usually entitled to see any comments or reports that are relevant to the outcome of your application.

  4. Your application will be dealt with in one of two ways:

The planning department may appoint an officer to decide the result on its behalf, or It may supply a report on your application to the council's planning committee, which is composed of elected councillors. You are generally entitled to see a copy of such a report. Guided by planning considerations, the committee will vote on whether or not to grant permission. This procedure is generally used for large and/or high-profile developments

  1. The council should inform you of its decision, and the reasons for it, within eight weeks. For permission to be refused, or granted subject to conditions, there must be valid planning reasons, such as potential traffic problems or the effect the proposed work would have on the surrounding area's appearance. The council cannot refuse permission on the grounds that a proposal is unpopular, whether with immediate neighbours or with the wider community.

  2. If your application is rejected, consult the planning department. You may be able to submit a revised application, with modified plans, free of charge, provided you do so within 12 months of the decision on your initial application. Alternatively, you can appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, or to the Welsh Assembly if the application relates to a property in Wales. Appeals must be mounted within six months of the date of the council's decision notice.

**A word to the wise
Whether or not you need planning permission for your particular project, you may require other kinds of approval - for example, listed building consent or conservation area consent - most of which are granted by the council. Bear in mind, too, any restrictive covenants that may apply to your property.

Should you be tempted to undertake work that needs planning permission without first obtaining it, think long and hard: if you are found out, you will be required to apply retrospectively for permission, which may or may not be granted. You may be forced to return the property to the state it was in before the work was carried out, or to undertake remedial works. Even if your secret remains undiscovered in the short term, it is likely to be exposed when you come to sell and legal searches are carried out, possibly jeopardising your sale.

With thanks to BuyAssociation.