Applying for Planning Permission and Exemptions
Builders and the law
When undergoing, it is best to understand the legal basics. As well as protecting you from the worst excesses of bad builders, the law also imposes certain responsibilities on the homeowner, including following the , applying for planning consent for projects where necessary and keeping obligations towards builders. This section discusses the building laws that can apply and considerations that can protect you when drawing up a contract.
Sometimes frustratingly, but probably fortunately, we do not have free rein on what we can do to our homes. The Town and Country Planning Acts and the Building Act have much to say about what is permissible, and although there is sometimes scope for negotiation, navigation of this particular labyrinth might best be achieved by your project manager, if you have one, who should be well-versed in building laws and procedures. He may deem it necessary to employ a specialist planning consultant, though these are usually necessary only on more complicated commercial jobs.
If your project looks as though it might require planning permission and/orapproval, contact your local authority’s Planning and/or departments, which are separate but often good at working together. They are often combined in one department called Development Control.
Some properties are further restricted as far as development or use is concerned by covenants in the title deeds. A covenant may, for instance, stipulate that certain alterations or additions shall not be made or only with the consent of the person who sold the land on which the property was built. (Some covenants cannot be enforced but, if in doubt, consult a solicitor.) Also, mortgage deeds normally have a clause stipulating that the building society’s (or other lender’s) approval must be obtained for any proposed alterations to the house. If a property is leasehold, the landlord’s consent will probably be required.
Planning permission is about what you can do with your home — whether it is building an extension or converting part of your home for business use. Some amount of is allowed under the Town and Country Planning Acts, but you are likely to need planning permission if you want to:
- extend your home forwards or upwards
- build extensions of more than a certain size
- change the use of your home in any way, including converting it into flats.
If you are in any doubt about whether you need to apply for permission, then you should ask. If the authorities discover that you have done something without the prior necessary approval, they have it in their power to make you apply for permission retrospectively. They can also issue an enforcement notice, requiring you to restore a building to its former condition or its former use (a notice has to be issued within four years of the work being completed, or it cannot be legally enforced, unless the building is listed).
Generally the authorities prefer the latter option, because they don’t want to set a precedent of allowing people to disregard the procedures. You may also be prosecuted and fined and, if you fight the judgement all the way and lose, you may ultimately have to withess the extension you put up at your own expense being demolished by bulldozers paid for with your own tax.
Planning permission exemptions
It is always best to check with your local authority before embarking on any kind of building project. However, certain additions or alterations to your property can be carried out without planning permission as long as your home is not listed, in a Conservation Area, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park, or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads.
In England and Wales, things that may be exempt include:
- a , provided it is under 30 sq m (except for regulations regarding glazing)
- domestic TV and radio aerials — though you may need permission for some satellite dishes (ask your council for the leaflet on these)
- extensions (including Building Regulations – What You Need to Know). Also, watch out for the boundary with your neighbours; if an extension (or conservatory or large garage) is closer to the boundary than 2 m, there will be height restrictions to prevent it blocking out their sun and garages closer than 5 m to the house) are allowed as long as they don’t increase the volume of the house by more than your ‘permitted ’ (see
- a fuel oil storage tank, provided it is less than 3,500 litres in capacity, no more than 3 m high and no closer to any highway than the house (unless it is at least 20 m away). Note that you always need permission for an LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) tank
- a garden wall or fence, provided it is not more than 1 metre high along the boundary with a road, or 2 m high in other places. Hedges, however, are almost always exempt, unless there is a condition attached to the original planning permission for your property which restricts the planting of hedges or trees
- hard-standing areas — which means driveways, patios or just areas of your garden which you would like to give over to concrete or stone — are generally allowed, but you will need permission if you want to make new or wider access for your driveway on to a trunk or other classified road. You need the separate approval of the Highways Department of your council if a new driveway would cross a pavement or a verge
- internal alterations or work not affecting the external appearance of the house
- a porch, as long as it is more than 2 m from the road or footpath, is less than 3 m high and does not occupy more than 3 sq m of floor space.
- roof extensions and These are allowed if they don’t increase the volume of the house by more than 50 cu m (40 cu m for a terraced house).
- roof windows — ie. those lying flat with the roof surface (often colloquially known as ‘Velux’ windows, after the main make). Note, however, that dormer windows (which project vertically from a sloping roof) are not generally permitted if they are facing a road.
- a shed, as long as it is not put up in front of the building line (the wall of the house facing the highway) and the height does not exceed 4m if it has a ridged roof, or 3m if the roof is flat.
- a swimming pool As long as it doesn’t take up more than half of your garden you can generally have a swimming pool, if you have obtained your water company’s consent and you can afford it — be prepared for a huge increase in your water rates. A little pool, perhaps solar-heated to reduce the long-term costs, and maybe even with a water-jet to swim against, could dramatically improve the value of your house, your standard of living, your cardiovascular fithess and your morale all at the same time.
Applying for planning permission
If you think you might need planning permission, contact the planning department of your local authority — and ask for an application form, if necessary They will tell you what the fee is and how many copies of the form you need to send back. Prior to applying, you could seek advice from a planning consultant or a building surveyor who may assist you with the application and plans. Sometimes, builders may be able to provide this service, but usually they will tell you to consult a surveyor. One of the advantages in employing local surveyors is that they will be familiar with the criteria adopted by the local planning authority. This may well save you the disappointment of a refusal or possible changes.
Normally, you will make a full application, but sometimes you might want to make an outline application — to find out what the authority thinks of your ideas before making detailed plans (you will still need to make a full application later).
After acknowledging your application, the council places your application on the Planning Register, where it can be inspected by any interested parties. It may also notify your neighbours or put up a notice on or near your house.
The application should be decided within eight weeks unless you give written consent to extend this period. The council must decide whether or not there are any good planning reasons for refusing consent — it will not reject a proposal simply because many people oppose it. They may approve it in full, reject it or grant permission with certain conditions.
If permission is granted (with or without conditions), you must start work within the specified time limit; if it is rejected (or not decided within eight weeks) you have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State or you can resubmit a modified application free of charge within 12 months.
Building Control will issue a final certificate (as well as a Building Control approval certificate — known as a Notice of Passing of Plans). If the construction does not comply with the Regulations, the owner will be prosecuted.