Project Planner: Planning permission explained

Experienced property renovator and Real Homes Editor-in-Chief, Michael Holmes explains the planning permission application process and offers his expert advice to ensure your project is a success.

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What is planning permission?

Planning permission, also referred to as planning consent, is the permission required to undertake development on land in the UK. Development is defined in law as any building, engineering or mining operation, or a material change of use for any land or building.

Why do I need it?

It is not illegal to develop land without planning permission, but it is unlawful. Consequently, if you have built an extension or conversion without consent, you can make a retrospective planning application, and if it is refused you can appeal. If you lose the appeal it can be costly, however, as the local authority could order the extension or conversion to be demolished and also charge you for the demolition work. If no enforcement action is taken within four years of the project’s completion (10 years for a change of use, with the exception of a change of use to a single dwelling, to which the four-year rule applies), then development without permission becomes immune from enforcement action under the statute of limitations. Altering a listed building (protected by law because of its architectural value) is a criminal offence that can lead to prosecution.

Do I always need planning permission?

If you are undertaking development, planning permission is required. However, certain developments are considered relatively minor and automatically given permission without requiring an application – this is called permitted development (PD). PD rights are defined in statute: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each has its own legislation, with slightly different rules. PD includes minor extensions, demolition, certain changes of use from one use to another, such as a loft, garage or cellar conversion, alterations to a roof and so on. Some types of work, including internal alterations such as remodelling an existing layout, are not classed as development, so do not need permission. To determine whether you need to make an application, you must define whether the proposals constitute development and, if so, whether it is PD. A planning application is only required when a development is not PD. You can make the application yourself or appoint an agent. You do not need to own the land to apply, but you must inform the owners. Completing the forms is straightforward, but you need to submit accurate scaled drawings, which an architectural designer would normally prepare. Any specialist reports required are likely to have to be undertaken by independent experts.

How will I know if my proposals are permitted development (PD)?

You can view PD legislation for England or Wales at Planningportal.gov.uk and establish whether your proposals are PD or require a planning application. You can also discuss your proposals with an architectural designer. If you want to be completely certain that they’re lawful, you can apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development. Having a certificate proves that the development is lawful, and can be important when you sell a property. Most houses have PD rights, but flats and maisonettes do not, so planning permission is required for development on a flat. PD varies according to the type of dwelling. Some rights, such as those for extensions, are different for detached, semi-detached and terraced housing. PD rights are reduced in Conservation Areas, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but not in the Green Belt. PD rights can also be removed or restricted by the local authority, so it is worth checking first before undertaking any work.

What information must I provide?

If you need to make a planning application, you can do so either using paper forms or by completing the application online at Planningportal.gov.uk. For a residential extension, you need to complete the householder application and submit scale drawings, including a site plan, location plan, plus existing and proposed floorplans and elevations. For large proposals you must also complete a Design and Access Statement. In some instances you may need to submit a landscape plan, tree report, Flood Risk Assessment, Sustainable Development Statement or Ecological Impact Assessment. If a building is listed, you must fill out a Listed Building Permission Application and may be required to provide other reports. Ask your local authority what further documentation is required. Applications for extensions and home improvements are for full planning permission. For a new home, there’s the option of applying for outline planning permission, which is subject to approval of matters such as design detail.

How much does it cost to apply?

The fee varies depending on the development. In England, a planning application for an extension costs £172, while a typical application in Wales is £166. If you would like pre-application advice from your local authority, in which you discuss your proposals with an officer and get a steer on what is likely to be acceptable, then there is usually a fee. Further small sums are payable for the discharge of ‘planning conditions’ which must be met before any development is able to begin.

Will it take long to get consent?

Once your application has been submitted, the planning department will make sure all the information it requires has been received, together with the right fee. You will be contacted if anything is missing. Local authorities are supposed to determine minor applications such as extensions within eight weeks of registration, and most applications are handled within this time frame. A sign is posted outside the address relating to the development, and neighbours likely to be affected are invited to view the plans and to comment. This is called the Public Consultation process and takes three to eight weeks. The local authority will consult the Highways Department plus the Environment Agency if necessary.

How is my application decided?

The local authority will base its decision on local plan policies and on relevant ‘material considerations’.

Material considerations can include (but are not limited to):

  • Overlooking/loss of privacy
  • Loss of light or overshadowing
  • Parking
  • Highway safety
  • Traffic
  • Noise
  • The effect on a listed building and Conservation Area
  • The layout and density of a building
  • The design, appearance and materials Government policy
  • Disabled persons’ access
  • Proposals in the Development Plan
  • Previous planning decisions (including appeal decisions)
  • Nature conservation

While neighbours are invited to comment, together with parish councils in England and Wales, only objections based on material considerations are taken into account. Issues such as loss of view, or a negative effect on properties’ value, are not relevant to planning. If the neighbours do not object and the officers recommend approval, they will usually grant permission using what are known as delegated powers. If there are objections or the application is called into committee by one of the councillors, the decision is taken by majority vote by the planning committee. These are elected councillors who will take the planning officers’ recommendations into account and form their view on the merits or otherwise of the application. They can vote with or against the planning officers. At the meeting, you can address the committee, but this is limited to three minutes.

What if my application is refused?

In England, around 75 per cent of applications are granted. If yours is refused you can re-submit it, having dealt with the reasons for refusal, or you can appeal against the decision at the Planning Inspectorate. Around 40 per cent of householder applications that are refused are later granted on appeal.

How long does permission last?

Three years from the date it was granted. You must start the development within this period and have any planning conditions, such as the approval of materials or design details, discharged within this time. Once work has begun, permission lasts in perpetuity. Planning permission remains with the land and not the applicant, so you can sell it to a future owner, or buy the permission, but make sure you have a licence to use an architectural designer’s plans.