If you’re hoping to take on a major home improvement project or build your own home, achieving planning permission is one of the first major boxes to tick, or perhaps hurdle/obstacle/battle to overcome. Unlike Building Regulations, planning decisions are based both on national guidance (currently provided in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework and accompanying technical guidance) and local planning policies set out by each local planning authority. As there is scope for inconsistency among local planning authorities, it’s wise to take a pragmatic approach if you are to achieve planning for the home you want.

Of course, there are also exceptions where planning permission is not required. For homeowners hoping to extend, convert a loft space, add an outbuilding or improve their homes, for instance, work may fall under Permitted Development (PD), meaning a formal planning application is not needed. PD may also allow for the conversion of an agricultural building or former office building into a dwelling. If such works to an existing home do not fall under PD, then you’ll need to apply for householder planning consent.

Outline Planning Permission vs. Full Planning Permission

There are two types of planning permission which relate to building a new home: outline and full planning permission.

  • Full planning permission allows a proposed development to happen. But before going full steam ahead on site, the conditions attached to the full planning consent must be discharged. Conditions usually focus on prior approval of external materials, landscaping and other detailed aspects. (The most important condition is the time condition, detailing the date by which a project must have started.) They must be discharged (satisfied) formally by letter by the local authority, usually before commencing work — otherwise the approval is invalidated.
  • Outline planning permission means that the principle of a development has been granted; it does not provide permission to start work. An application for ‘reserved matters’ – which may include the size of the proposed house, appearance, position, landscaping and access – will need to be submitted and approved before work can take place. And if your detailed plans deviate significantly from the original outline planning then you’ll likely need to submit for full planning.

Before buying land with outline planning permission, examine the approval document carefully. It should help to give you a good idea of the type of house you could end up building. Approval is likely on a design that follows these guidelines — but it is also true to say that other design schemes could be approved if you submit for full planning permission with your revised proposals.

Before Applying for Planning Permission

Before submitting for planning permission, there’s a few good steps to take to improve your chances of success.

One of the first is to seek pre-application advice from the local planning authority. This provides opportunity for an appraisal of your proposals by a planning officer. Use the meeting to assess your chances of success and to ascertain any additional documents or surveys (ecology, flood risk and so on) that might be necessary to validate the application.

Some local authorities will charge for pre-application advice (there is no nationally fixed fee but expect to pay £50-£100). Those that do charge tend to treat this as a more formal additional tier in the whole application process and may require quite a lot more information. Be aware, though, that advice given out by the planning officers as part of pre-application advice is not binding on the final decision.

Choosing an architect or architectural designer with knowledge and experience of dealing with your local planning authority is another sound idea. If the application is potentially contentious, seeking advice from a professional planning consultant may also be money well spent.

Finally, approach neighbours prior to submitting your application. They may be wary about how proposals will affect their property. Knock on the door and explain what you are planning; it’s often a good idea to take round plans or sketches, or even 3D models, to help them visualise what you hope to achieve.

Make it clear that you are going to be their neighbour and, in order to head off objections, consider whether you can amend your plans to take their worries into account before submitting your application. Bear in mind though that the more spurious objections of neighbours will not affect your chances of success.

Making an Application

A planning application can be made using paper forms or by completing the application form online via planningportal.gov.uk. You can apply for planning permission yourself, or you can appoint an agent (such as your architect). You do not need to own the land to be able to apply either – for instance, you might make achieving outline planning permission a condition of buying a plot of land – but you must inform the owners.

The preparation of a cogent Design & Access Statement, which sets out the logic behind the design and the justification for the project in both architectural terms and in the context of local planning policy is important, as is the accompanying letter, which should refer to any meetings or discussions that have preceded the application.

How much does it cost to apply for planning permission?

Bear in mind that the planning application fee of £385 for a new build and £172 for an application which covers extensions and remodels will be a very minor part of that overall expense. The biggest cost is going to be the preparation of the plans, the commissioning of the necessary surveys and reports, and the collation of it all into one single package.

What Happens Next?

How long does it take to get planning approval?

Providing everything is in order, you will receive a letter giving you the reference number and a date (eight weeks for minor applications, 13 weeks for larger) by which you should have received a decision in writing. It will advise you that if you do not have that determination within the allotted timescale, you have the right to extend the period (almost always a good idea) or seek to appeal against their non-determination.

What to do while you wait

In the meantime, the local authority will send out what is known as their ‘consultations’ to bodies such as Highways, Environment Agency, the parish council, special interest groups, and so on.

Try to talk to the planning officer assigned to your case once the three-week consultation period is over so that they can chase up those that are late. In some local authorities, officers will be willing to discuss applications and make suggestions. In others, they are reluctant to enter into negotiations and will simply process the application to recommendation stage.

Most single home applications are granted approval by the case officers using delegated powers. Where there are other issues or a large number of valid objections, the planning committee of elected officials will make the determination. Both will take the recommendations of the case officer into account but need not necessarily abide by them.
You are entitled to lobby members of the committee for support. Some local authorities will allow you to address the committee directly, too.

If your scheme is recommended by the planning officers for refusal, withdrawing the application and making some amendments can be a better tactic than allowing it to be refused and then trying to appeal; the latter can be a long-winded process. If you can take on board the reasons for refusal and adjust the design accordingly, it is often better to make a fresh (and free) application.

Tips for Success

  • If you can, apply for a little more than you expect to build so that you have something to sacrifice should you need to compromise.
  • Do not make any contentious applications around the time of local/national elections — no one wants to stick their neck out to support a scheme that will be unpopular with the local community and potentially lose their political support.
  • Take a tactical approach. If one or two aspects of the design are contentious, remove them, get approval for the main scheme, and then reapply for the more controversial aspects later — there’s no fee for reapplying the first time.
  • Consider combining what you can achieve using Permitted Development rights to extend and alter your home with what can be achieved through planning permission. The sum can be greater than the two halves.

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