Everything you need to know about planning permission

This article may well add confusion to an already mystifying subject, where rules apply, but are applied differently from one location to another. If nothing else, it should prompt you to be cautious, to look carefully before you leap, and probably to take professional advice.  

How does the system work?

Central government passes Planning legislation. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) of 2012 (and four subsequent iterations thereof) form the basis of Planning Law in England and Wales. The essential features are:

  • the establishment of core planning principles (economic, social and environmental) against which all planning applications should be judged.
  • borough councils, as Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s), are given the responsibility to manage and enforce Planning laws.
  • LPAs have to draw up a Local Plan in tune with the principles enshrined in central government’s NPPF, but also specific to the needs of their constituent population.
  • Central government may intervene if an LPA’s Local Plan is at odds with the NPPF, and it also gets involved as arbiter in the appeal process where planning applications have been refused.

Types of development subject to planning permission

Small developments are not usually subject to Planning Consent. For example, a four metre, single storey, rear extension to a detached house should in theory have Permitted Development Rights, i.e. no Planning Consent needed. This is good in that it cuts out a lot of bureaucracy. However, if the extension is in close proximity to a neighbour’s house, the Permitted Development Right may be overruled. Never assume. Always check before you act.

The list of different things for which Planning Consent may be needed is longer than you would imagine. The following is by no means exhaustive:

  • New dwellings and extensions
  • Listed buildings and conservation areas – any changes to existing
  • Change of use – conversion of house to flats, residential to commercial, agricultural land to residential
  • Industrial or commercial developments
  • Demolition of buildings
  • Felling or pruning trees
  • Construction of outdoor swimming pool or pond
  • Erection of advertisement hoarding or shop signage

Variation in standards

The most stringent Planning conditions are applied to Listed Buildings, and to all properties in a Conservation Area. Applications are normally scrutinized by an LPA’s Conservation or Heritage Officer. Features of architectural value (inside and out) must be preserved, replacement windows must be replicas of the originals, even the paintwork colour may have to stay the same. Their job is all about preserving heritage.

A tourist resort on the South Coast is very different from an industrial town in the Midlands. The planning priorities of the two are very different. So, though both are still adhering to the core principles set out in the NPPF, the results in terms of what is, and is not, permissible in planning applications will be significantly different.

Breaches of planning law

In 2002, a farmer near Gatwick built a mock Tudor castle on his land without Planning Consent. He concealed it from prying eyes for four years with a wall of hay bales. Eventually the LPA discovered it, and after years of legal battles and the farmer facing a jail sentence, the castle was finally demolished in 2016.

The owners of a Grade 2 listed building (also near Gatwick) installed a new kitchen, no expense spared. The building’s footprint was unchanged, but where previously there was no door to the outside, a big chunk of wall was demolished and bi-fold doors fitted. The Heritage Officer took one look and said the bi-folds must go. Why no planning application? Ignorance on the part of the house owner or failure by the kitchen installer to submit an application? Whatever the reason, it was a costly mistake.

Many people unwittingly break the rules, believing that their extension has Permitted Development Rights, when it turns out that other factors are involved and Planning Consent is necessary. They might get away with it until they try to sell, at which point the absence of both Planning Consent and LPA acknowledgement that Permitted Development Rights apply could make the property unsaleable.

Submitting the Application

There’s no point in submitting a Planning Application which is doomed to fail. It’s a good idea to pay for Pre Application Advice – an LPA Planning Officer looks at your proposed works and gives you their opinion as to whether you are likely to get approval.

It also pays to get a local building surveyor or planning consultant involved for their knowledge of the way the Planning Committee’s mind works. They also have the skills and wherewithal to present your application in a professional manner, complete with drawings to scale and all necessary supporting documents.

Get in touch

If you’re looking for surveyors with decades of experience in local property matters, call our team today on 01273 031646. We’d be glad to help.