I often get asked the question, do I need planning permission for my project? So after many conversations I thought that I would write an article to provide some clarity and insight for homeowners who are asking this question. I won’t get into depth on all the technical aspects in this article but I will definitely try to draw out a few of the key things you need to know to identify whether or not your project will need planning approval, and to give you some insight into the process along the way.
Most council websites tell you that the fastest way to determine whether or not your project needs planning is to call and ask the council's planning department.
Now, if your council are efficient and you are able to speak directly to a planner, then this is perfect advice. However, in reality you will quickly find that contacting your local planning department and getting any meaningful advice, without filling out forms and waiting until a planner is available to respond to your request, can be extremely difficult.
This is often due to the lack of resource that councils have and the fact that planners are typically very busy working and assessing applications. Fielding general queries is therefore not high on the priority list.
As such, many councils encourage people to use their pre-application (pre-app) service which has a fee and requires you to submit a description of your proposal and indicative plans before they can make a response. You will receive detailed guidance on your project, however, in some cases costs for pre-app can be nearly as expensive as submitting a full application, which makes little sense, especially for smaller projects.
Pre-application can be useful however, if your scheme is more involved and you need to know if your project is feasible in principle. The downside of this, however, is that the council's decision at pre-app is non-binding and can be overturned when you submit for full planning.
So how can you find out if your project needs planning, if you can’t get through to a planner directly?
It is important for me to add a few disclaimers. Firstly, I am not a planner or part of your local council. Every council has different rules and guides so there is no one size fits all advice.
That being said, there are national and general planning rules and guidance that I can draw on to assist you in your search.
So, now that we have the groundwork set, here are some helpful rules of thumb to follow…
Do I need planning permission for internal alterations?
If you are modifying the interior of your home it generally doesn’t require planning permission as internal works are generally not controlled by the local authority.
That said, some internal changes can require planning permission particularly if it is changing the use of a property, is a listed building or in a conservation area.
The reason why is because these types of changes can often impact the demand on occupancy levels and local infrastructure e.g. bin provision, waste, road use etc. In cases where uses are changed - e.g. Conversions to shops, the authority also need to consider suitability of use. These all need to be assessed by your local authority before they agree to approve your project. If this is the case you will likely require planning as these are classed as a ‘change of use’.
Planning Permission for Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas
If the property is listed or if it is in a conservation area I recommend that you make enquiries with either your local council or an architect who will be able to confirm what you will need to approve modifications to your building. This can be serious as you can be prosecuted for carrying out works to a listed building without permission, including fines and jail time. You can check on Historic England to see if your property is in the vicinity of a listed building.
What are Use Classes in Planning?
The UK has a ‘use class’ schedule that can be found here on the planning portal that defines the different types of uses that a building can have. Sometimes a building can have a mix of these uses too. There are many rules about how buildings can and cannot change their use and often you will need to explain to the council why your change of use is justified. It is often best to employ a specialist, like an architect to assist you in navigating this as it can be a minefield and making errors can lead you to planning refusal or a local council that is opposed to your ideas.
Quick Guide - House Extensions
If you are building anything that fronts the main highway of your home, it will likely need planning.
Some adaptions like single storey rear/side, or double storey side extensions can be carried out under permitted development, but I would always recommend that you get at least a clear plan and drawings of your proposal to gain prior approval for the development. View the Single-storey Extension Mini Guide or the Two-storey Extension Mini guide for more details.
Wrap around extensions will generally require planning permission. Double storey rear extensions will also likely require planning permission.
Quick Guide - Loft Extensions
Loft conversions that extend beyond the original roof and project out towards the front highway will likely need planning.
Permitted development provided new guidance which allows you to convert your loft as long as you are creating less than 40 cubic meters of volume for terraced houses and 50 cubic metres for detached and semi-detached houses. View the Loft Extension Mini Guide for more details.
You will likely need a technical expert to assist you in determining if the design you want can be built within this limitation.
Quick Guide - What you don’t need planning permission for
The types of development that don’t typically require full planning permission are:
Windows and doors
Garages and attached buildings
Porches - They cannot be within 2m of any boundary adjacent to a highway and the ground area (measured externally) does not exceed 3m²
This is not an exhaustive list and you should also check the planning portals interactive house to ensure that your building works are within guidelines.
Prior Approval is a condition placed on certain types of permitted development which requires you to submit a formal application to your local authority before carrying out some types of works already deemed as permitted by national law.
Prior Approval from your department should always be sought from the council to ensure that the works will fall under the permitted development class where required.
It also gives you that added security that should your neighbour want to dispute whether or not your extension is permittable, you have something in writing that is in your favour.
That's it for now, but I have included some useful links to resources below that should help you as you seek to work out if your project requires planning permission.
Planning Portal Website