When it comes to planning permission, it is vital to understand the position of the planners and the factors that will cause an application to be rejected. Understand these before you apply and you’ll be well on the way to a successful application.
The Importance of Location
It is true to say that location is critical in choosing a site, because you need to take into account all of the planning pitfalls — which can be numerous.
The first thing to establish when looking at any site you think could be a potential plot is whether or not it is inside the local ‘Development Boundary’. In order to protect the open countryside from indiscriminate development, local policy planners draw this imaginary line around towns and villages. Effectively, planning policy restricts development to those sites within these defined boundaries. If your site lies outside this boundary and you are not planning on redeveloping an existing dwelling, converting an old barn or building a property to serve an agricultural need, then the chances are that you are unlikely to receive planning permission.
Once you have found your plot, within the Development Boundary, the principle of development is basically already established — subject to the proposal meeting an array of specific planning criteria.
Never Underestimate Your Neighbours
Over the years I have found that it’s useful to get your ducks in a row first. Establish a rapport with neighbouring occupants, but before you discuss your plans with them make sure that you have thought everything through. Keep in mind the need to consider the siting of the building, its size and design — it is the site context that is important.
Planning authorities will always look at the impact on neighbouring properties. You can assess this by looking for natural screening such as trees and hedges and whether you can use them in the overall scheme. Never take a mature hedge out unless you are absolutely desperate for space.
At the design stage, give consideration to the way in which windows in your proposals overlook neighbouring gardens or windows: any building work should not be overbearing upon them, block out their light or affect their amenity. As a general rule of thumb, a 21-25m distance is normally given from principal window to principal window, i.e. a main living room of a property. There is often design guidance criteria for each authority — I normally check with each authority that I deal with to be sure what their criteria is, as they do differ.
From my experience of local planning authorities, neighbour issues are only given credence in the planning process if the concerns are planning related. I usually find talking to neighbours and understanding their point of view provides an opportunity to negotiate a win-win solution in most cases. You will not win every argument, but talking always helps.
Legitimate Legal Access
I once had a case where we discovered that a site, which was going through the conveyance process prior to purchase, had no legitimate legal access. My client had asked the question about the likelihood of achieving planning. As soon as I looked at the site and investigated matters further I discovered, via solicitors and the highway authority, that the site was land locked with no formal legal vehicular access.
This example hopefully demonstrates that it is important when you are looking at plots to ensure that you have a legal right of access or ownership of access to your plot, and that your plot has appropriate access from the highway. This usually means that you will need to check with the highway authority that they are satisfied with the physical size and shape of the access. It is fair to say that these types of technical issues can be resolved, either by improving the access or creating a new access in a position that is in accordance with Highway Safety Guidelines. Sometimes you cannot solve these difficulties because the land you might need forms part of a ransom strip, so always check that the extent of the land you are buying provides adequate access.
A major theme currently within planning is ‘sustainability’. If your site is close to public transport links, such as bus stops, or can be easily accessed on foot or by bike from local amenities, then this is a good point to promote when you apply for planning permission.
In a nutshell, highway issues can work both for and against you in terms of securing planning permission. Always ensure you tackle highway issues early on and check out how the local highway authority will view development of a plot at the same time as you investigate whether you will receive support from the local planning authority — it can be an expensive mistake not to.
Conservation Areas and AONB
It is no surprise that areas with beautiful landscapes are considered to be attractive places to live. However, these areas also have specific constraints afforded to them. The main landscape and conservation designations include Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, land covered by an Article 4 Direction, or a Conservation Area. Within these areas, specific consideration must be given to the impact of the development on the site and the wider setting within the locality.
Your planning application must be well presented; it needs to address all the policy issues related to the constraints. For example, if the site is in a Conservation Area or the conversion you are proposing involves a listed building, then good design and a sensitive scheme will be required — deliver that and you will be more likely to carry the conservation officer with you through the negotiation process. If the site is close to or contains a listed building, then the chances are that a new property may harm the setting. I would certainly say that these are the higher risk sites, likely to cause you more trouble — so bear this in mind when bidding for this type of land and allow a larger budget, as the planning process could take much longer as these types of scheme are inevitably more complex.
There were many parts of the country badly affected by the aftermath of the summer’s torrential rain that has again highlighted the problems associated with building on or near to floodplains and watercourses. The Environment Agency has useful information regarding flood zones.
Flooding can be a major constraint, which often leads to planning applications being refused and higher planning costs due to the need for ‘Flood Risk Assessments’ and specialist advice. The situation is going to get a lot worse over coming years in terms of regulating developments in flood zones. On a general point, my advice is to do the background research that identifies all the planning issues and then decide whether the site will work for you in terms of viability.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take for approval?
For planning applications for extensions and single dwellings, the Government target for local authorities is eight weeks. If the application process runs relatively smoothly then you can expect a decision before that date; however, unexpected problems or objections can push this timescale up.
From experience, entering into detailed pre-application discussions with the local authority before submission will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Using this approach, I establish early on in the process what the planners’ views are and whether it will be necessary to reconsider the submitted scheme or seek further negotiation.
I’ve seen a barn but it only has permission for a holiday let. Why is that and what are my chances of upgrading it?
I am sure we have all seen that idyllic barn surrounded by beautiful open countryside, ripe for conversion. However, planning policy has been evolved over the years to stop the gentrification of these humble buildings because it is the residential paraphernalia – the domesticity of the building and the associated curtilage – which is nearly almost always resisted.
The restriction on the ‘use’ of a barn conversion as a holiday let is to prevent permanent residential occupation. This is normally because the property is in open countryside outside any settlement boundary and therefore contrary to planning policy.
Restrictions are governed by either a condition or perhaps a legal agreement. Legal agreements can be removed and conditions can be varied or removed, dependent on the issues involved. In my experience, however, I have only ever witnessed a few cases where holiday let restrictions have been lifted.
I’m thinking of designing a house myself. Will presentation affect my chances?
From personal experience, having worked in both local authority and now as a consultant, I would strongly recommend ensuring that your application drawings and associated application submission are well presented and all the bases are covered.
Firstly, if the submission is poor then you will not convince officers, let alone elected members, of the worth of your project. At the end of the day, the drawings are going to be what the local authority bases its decision on and they need to be visually well presented, and clear with appropriate annotation — a north point helps too!
Design and Access statement: What is it, how do I get one and how much will it cost?
These statements have to accompany all planning applications besides householder building works in unprotected areas and changes of use. Statements are used to justify a proposal’s design concept and the access to it. The level of detail depends on the scale of the project and its sensitivity. Most authorities will have guidance notes available to help you but, unfortunately, unless you ensure you have included one in your submission, planning authorities can refuse to register your planning application.
How long does my approval term last?
For a ‘Full’ application (unless otherwise stated) the period would be three years from the day the decision was made.
With an ‘Outline’ application you have three years after the decision in which to seek approval of the remaining Reserved Matters and then up to two years after the last Reserved Matter was approved to commence building.
It always surprises me how often people allow planning permissions to formally lapse. You can seek renewal and it takes little time to reapply – there is even case law on what constitutes commencement and a number of cases where applicants have dug out foundations to protect their planning permission in perpetuity, intending to finish sometime later. I don’t advocate this approach, but it is useful to understand the process.