When do you need planning permission?

RAH Blog
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22 December 2023
by Redmayne Arnold and Harris

Planning permission is a cornerstone for development in the United Kingdom, regulating construction projects and alterations. Understanding its nuances is vital for anyone considering property changes or new builds. The UK planning system ensures orderly development while preserving the environment and community interests. Navigating these regulations can be complex, with various factors influencing the need for permission. This guide aims to demystify these criteria, shedding light on when precisely planning permission becomes a prerequisite for your projects.

Understanding Permitted Development Rights

Permitted Development Rights (PDR) are essential in property development in the UK, allowing homeowners and developers to undertake specific building works without formal planning permission. These rights are governed by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order, which outlines what can be done without explicit approval from the local planning authority. 

PDR covers various projects, such as small-scale extensions, loft conversions, changes in building use, and installation of solar panels or satellite dishes. However, these rights have limitations, such as size, location, and impact on neighbouring properties. Understanding PDR's scope and limitations is crucial, as failure to comply could lead to legal repercussions and the need for retrospective planning permission.

Factors Determining the Need for Planning Permission

Factors determining the need for planning permission in the UK revolve around the proposed developments' type, scale, and location. These factors are crucial in deciding whether formal approval from the local planning authority is necessary.

Types of Development Requiring Planning Permission

  • Major Developments: Major developments encompass substantial projects such as large residential or commercial developments, infrastructure projects, or significant alterations that could significantly impact the surrounding area.
  • Minor Developments: Minor developments typically refer to smaller-scale projects, including home extensions, alterations, and specific use changes. While some minor developments fall under permitted development rights, others may necessitate planning permission depending on specific criteria.

Critical Considerations for Determining Permission Requirements

  • Property Location and Conservation Areas: Properties within conservation areas or designated protected zones often have stricter development guidelines. Preserving the character and heritage of these areas takes precedence, potentially requiring planning permission even for minor alterations.
  • Building Type and Purpose: Different types of buildings have distinct regulations. For instance, residential development rules differ from commercial or industrial property rules. The purpose of the proposed development influences the need for planning permission.
  • Size and Scale of Proposed Development: The size and scale of the project are crucial. Large extensions, new builds, or changes that significantly modify the appearance or size of a structure often necessitate planning permission, whereas more minor alterations might fall within permitted development.
  • Changes to Land Use or Function: Altering the use or function of a property, such as converting a residential property into a commercial space or vice versa, often requires planning permission. Changes in land use may impact the surrounding area and require formal approval.

Joint Projects Requiring Planning Permission

In the United Kingdom, several joint projects often necessitate obtaining planning permission from the local authority due to their potential impact on the surroundings and existing regulations. Here are some of these projects:

  • Home Extensions and Alterations: Altering your home, including loft conversions or significant structural changes, often demands planning permission. Factors like size, location, and impact on neighbouring properties are crucial considerations, ensuring compliance with regulations governing permitted development rights.
  • New Builds and Conversions: Building new structures or converting existing ones into residences or commercial spaces requires planning permission. These projects significantly influence the landscape and nearby areas, warranting adherence to planning regulations.
  • Changes in Land Use: Modifying a property's designated use, such as converting commercial spaces to residential or vice versa, usually necessitates planning permission. This requirement ensures consideration of impacts on local infrastructure and services.
  • Installing Solar Panels or Satellite Dishes: While smaller installations may fall under permitted development rights, larger installations, like expansive solar panel arrays or prominent satellite dishes, require planning permission. Regulations focus on installation size, location, and visibility.
  • Erecting Fences, Walls, and Gates: Construction of boundary structures like tall walls, fences, or gates may need planning permission, especially if they exceed specified height limits or are near public roads. Compliance with local regulations ensures proper installation within legal boundaries.

Exemptions and Exceptions

Certain exemptions from planning permission exist in the UK, encompassing specific developments or alterations. These exemptions include minor changes, temporary structures, or works considered minimal impact. Additionally, some situations, such as works within designated permitted development rights, might be exempt from the formal planning process. 

However, it's crucial to note that while exemptions exist, they often come with limitations and conditions. Seeking guidance from local planning authorities or professionals is advisable to ensure compliance and ascertain whether a particular project falls under these exemptions.

Process of Applying for Planning Permission

The process of applying for planning permission in the UK involves several steps:

  • Pre-Application Research and Preparation: Conduct thorough research on local planning policies, guidelines, and regulations. Assess the feasibility of your project against these standards. Prepare detailed plans, drawings, and documents outlining the proposed development.
  • Submit the Application: Complete the planning application form the local planning authority provided. Ensure all necessary documents, including site plans, architectural drawings, and relevant reports, accompany the application. Pay the required application fees.
  • Application Validation: The local planning authority reviews the application for completeness upon submission. They check if all necessary documents and information are included. If any information is missing, they may request further details.
  • Public Consultation and Notification: The planning authority may notify the public and relevant stakeholders about the proposed development. This may involve site notices or neighbour notifications to gather feedback or objections within a specified timeframe.
  • Assessment and Decision-Making: The planning authority assesses the application, considering various factors such as local policies, impact on the environment, and feedback received. They decide within a set timeframe, including approval, refusal, or the imposition of conditions.
  • Appeals and Post-Decision Actions: If the application is refused or granted with unfavourable conditions, there is an option to appeal the decision. Alternatively, if approved, adhere to any conditions imposed and obtain necessary clearances before commencing the development.

Consequences of Building Without Permission

Building without obtaining the necessary planning permission in the UK can lead to various consequences:

  • Enforcement Action: Local planning authorities can issue notices if they discover unauthorised developments. These notices demand rectification of the breach within a specified timeframe or may require demolition of the unauthorised structure.
  • Legal Ramifications: Failure to comply with an enforcement notice can result in legal action, leading to fines or prosecution. Courts may impose substantial fines or, in extreme cases, imprisonment for non-compliance.
  • Financial Costs: Rectifying unauthorised developments can be expensive. This includes costs associated with demolition, legal fees, and potential compensation to affected parties or the local authority.
  • Loss of Value: Unauthorised developments can diminish the value of the property. They affect the property's marketability and can hinder future attempts to obtain planning permission.
  • Difficulties in Selling or Mortgaging: Unauthorised developments can create complications when selling or mortgaging a property. Potential buyers or lenders might be cautious due to the legal uncertainties surrounding the unauthorised structures.
  • Injunctions and Stop Notices: Local authorities can issue injunctions or stop notices to halt ongoing unauthorised development. Failure to comply with these notices can result in legal consequences.

Resources and Assistance

In the UK, several resources and avenues exist to assist individuals navigating the planning permission process:

  • Local Planning Authorities (LPAs): Councils provide personalised guidance on planning policies, local requirements, application processes, development plans, and ensure alignment with local regulations and considerations.
  • Planning Portals and Websites: Planning Portals provide comprehensive information on regulations, document templates, and tools for submitting planning applications, enabling individuals to navigate the process more efficiently and accurately.
  • Professional Services: Architects, planning consultants, and solicitors specialising in planning law bring expertise and experience. They assist in preparing thorough applications, ensuring compliance with regulations, and navigating complexities within the planning system for optimal outcomes.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): The CAB offers general guidance on planning matters and directs individuals to appropriate specialised help. Their services encompass advising on initial steps, understanding rights, and referring to relevant professionals for more in-depth assistance.
  • Local Community Groups: Engaging with local community groups or residents' associations helps understand local concerns and perspectives on planning matters, providing insights into community impacts and potential support for proposed developments.
  • Online Forums and Discussion Groups: Online forums for planning provide a platform for individuals to share experiences, advice, and insights with a community of similar individuals, offering peer support and diverse perspectives.
  • Government Planning Publications: Publications from governmental bodies disseminate up-to-date information, guidelines, and policy changes related to planning regulations. They serve as authoritative resources, ensuring individuals stay informed about evolving planning laws and procedures.

Understanding when planning permission is necessary in the UK is crucial for successful property development. Individuals can navigate the process effectively by grasping the nuances of permitted development, key considerations, and joint projects requiring permission. Seeking advice from local authorities, utilising online resources, and considering professional guidance ensures compliance and enhances the likelihood of successful planning applications.

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