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Planning Permission

October 2016.

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What is planning permission?

Planning permission must be obtained for all new houses and for most alterations. There are a few exceptions to do with small additions such as porches (although these may have been removed by condition. It is important that people check with their local authority before they do any work. see

reasons to build ecologicallyThe actual legislation is contained in the NPPF.

Don’t confuse planning permission with Building Regulations approval. Building Regulations is mainly about the house being built properly, i.e. structurally sound, fairly fireproof, insulated etc. whereas planning permission is about what type of building is allowed to be on the land, what its purpose is, what it looks like, how it affects traffic in the area etc.

There are various types of permission as covered on the Planning Portal page Choosing your Application.

For actually making an application:

England Wales In England and Wales the government Planning Portal is a good place to start with making an on line application.

England For Northern Ireland try the Planning NI

Scotland And here for Scotland

The main thing to understand first is that there are two kinds of land:

  • Land which has or can get planning permission.
  • Land which hasn’t got it or is unlikely to get it. (Land may have constraints such a green belt, green wedge, countryside and other restrictive policies that mean gaining planning permission is unlikely. But this always depends on the type of development.)

People who are selling land usually apply for outline planning permission before they advertise and then they state in the advert what the permission is. For example “…with outline planning permission to build 3 x 2 storey two bedrooms houses…”

It is usually a very bad idea to buy land which does not have planning permission simply on the hope that you might be able to get it later. No matter how cheap the land is or how beautiful a spot, it’s best to assume that you will not be able to get permission to carry out a self build project. If it were easy, someone would already have got it. The possible exception to this is the situation of an existing house with a large garden where you might well be able to get planning permission for an extension, depending on planning policy in the area. The planners will often give an indication of the likely outcome of an application

So after you find a site, the first question is whether it at least has some kind of planning permission for a dwelling. A slight problem might be that it has a somewhat different permission from what you want to build. For instance, the vendor might have gone for permission for a pair of semi-detached buildings, thinking that this would fetch the best price on the land, whereas you want to build one large house. At this point it is probably best to have a word with the planning officer for the area. They will give you an idea of what to do – possibly you may need to apply for an amendment to the permission before buying the land.

Under certain circumstances you may have some inside knowledge which the vendor doesn’t have and you might risk buying land without planning permission but it is advisable to get professional help with this.

Retrospective permission

Occasionally you hear about people who have gone ahead and built without permission. Local authorities have extremely strong powers to force you to take down what you have built or demolish it for you, and very heavy fines can follow. It is sometimes possible to get retrospective permission on a development but it’s certainly not a good idea to assume you will.

Change of use

The Town and Country Planning puts uses of land and buildings into various categories known as ‘Use Classes’. If you want to change the use class you may well have to apply for planning permission. See the Planning Portal site on this.

However the term can have subtly differing meanings, depending on who is using it. For instance the Building Regulations part C (in the Approved Document) – “Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture” (England) defines the changes of use as:

  1. the building is used as a dwelling, where previously it was not;
  2. the building contains a flat, where previously it did not;
  3. the building is used as a hotel or boarding house, where previously it was not;
  4. the building is used as an institution, where previously it was not;
  5. the building is used as a public building, where previously it was not;
  6. the building is not a building described in Classes 1 to 6 in Schedule 2, where previously it was;
  7. the building, which contains at least one dwelling, contains a greater or lesser number of dwellings than it did previously;
  8. the building contains a room for residential purposes, where previously it did not;
  9. the building, which contains at least one room for residential purposes, contains a greater or lesser number of such rooms than it did previously; or
  10. the building is used as a shop, where previously it was not.

There is more information about the legal definition on the Residential Landlord’s Association site and the somewhat complicated Class Q (change of use from agricultural building to a dwelling house) is discussed on the Planning Design web site.

Outline permission

It is usual to get outline planning permission first to see whether the sort of thing you want to build is acceptable and if it is then you can go for detailed planning permission. It is not a good idea to buy land without outline permission, assuming you will be able to get it later. You may not and then the land will be worth a fraction of the price it would be with permission. For instance agricultural land is typically worth around £7000/ hectare whereas building land will be into the millions per hectare depending on where it is. Interestingly, anyone can apply for permission on any piece of land whether they own it or not.

The process

You apply to the local council for planning permission. Outline permission is a fairly simple procedure whereas detailed permission requires full drawings. It used to be the case that you could  have a chat with the planners first. They were usually very helpful and gave you a good idea about the sort of thing that is acceptable, especially if you live in some kind of sensitive area such as a conservation area or a SSSI etc. Recently more and more planning departments have started charging for this advice with their costs varying considerably. Check their web site for “Pre-application planning advice”

A considerable amount of information is available at the local authority planning department and a lot of this information is on line. You can find out whether planning permission has already been granted for a particular plot of land (whether you own it or not), you can find out whether a plot is in a specially designated area such as an SSSI or a conservation area and at a more strategic level you can see how the area fits into any existing development plans.

When you put in an application it is considered by the planning committee of the council who listen to the recommendations of their planning officers. With simple matters they will simply follow what the officers say and the decision will go through ‘on the nod’. With anything a bit more contentious the committee will argue it out and that is why it sometimes pays to have a sympathetic councillor on your side.

If your application is not successful you can take it to appeal and a planning inspector will consider it. More about appeals on the Planning Portal here. It is a free process.

The main government web site covering planning is the Planning Portal and it has some useful tools for calculating fees, carbon footprint, and building volume. It also allows you to download a site plan for planning application.

It can take two to three months to get planning permission.

Government planning policy

The government planning policy for housing is shown on the Planning Portal and more detailed guidance for putting in an application are on the Gov.UK planning permission site

There have recently been some encouraging signs regarding the government’s attitude to self build. The Minister of State for Housing and Planning, announced a government initiative to create a great deal more activity in the self build market.

The 2014 March budget initiative saw further encouragement for councils to help self build.

Custom Build– Government will consult on a new ‘Right to Build’ to give custom builders a right to buy a plot from councils. Government will be seeking a small number of councils to act as vanguards to test the model. A new £150m Serviced Plots loan fund (2014/15 to 2018/19) will help provide up to 10,000 serviced plots for custom build. Councils will need to work with contractors or builders to access the fund. The Government will also look to make the Help to Buy equity loan scheme available for custom build.

Councils regularly have redundant land and they have four main ways of directing it to self builders

  • directly by selling off land as individual plots
  • selling land to a constituted group of self builders who raise the money through a bank loan
  • to a private company whose purpose is to then split the land down into individual plots and sell them on to self builders
  • to a housing association which intends to organise self build

All these methods have been used in the past but not widely. The first option is probably the trickiest because it is difficult to build in from the beginning how the financing of infrastructure such as roads and sewerage are handled.

Other developments

The Localism Act has been coming into force in stages over the end of December 2011 through the first few months of 2012 See A plain English guide to the Localism Act. Its purpose is to hand planning powers over to local communities.

NacsbaNational Custom & Self Build Association. formally called Nasba has been campaigning to have self build and custom build exempt from the s106 agreements (sometimes called ‘developer contributions’) and the CIL.

The Habitats Regulations

Increasingly the EU Habitats Regulations (which cover nature conservation in sensitive areas) are coming into force and are in fact cited in the Draft National Planning Policy Framework. See more on the APIS web site

Sensitive areas

Some areas (such as conservation areas) are designated as especially sensitive. In these areas there are tighter rules known as ‘Article 4 Directions’ and what is known as ‘permitted developments’ (some small extensions, alterations and repairs etc) are not automatically allowed. If you are in such an area you need to contact the council before making any alterations or doing any development.

Local applications

Local authorities have on line databases of current planning applications and to some extent, past ones. They tend to be rather buried away but the nitty gritty nature of the information can reveal useful details of what the planners allow in a specific area. You can usually search particular streets or types of building.

As an example try Norwich City Council at

This will lead to a page where you can search by address or keyword.

A novel and interesting approach to communicating what an application is all about can be seen in this video by Nick Meech when he was applying to convert a large underground water storage tank into a house. The application was eventually successful.

5 comments to Planning Permission


    I am the executor for a will. It involves selling a house with land. The estate agent has stated that the land, if it had planning consent for a three bedroomed dwelling and was sold separately to the house, would raise more money for the benefactors of the will….I am not a benefactor but trying to be helpful. As the executor can I apply for this planning and charge the cost to the estate. The beneficiaries are both happy with this proposal.

  • Angela Smith

    I am sitting in a very adequate wooden house in Ireland that has been imported from Holland It has 3 bedrooms a living room a kitchen and a bathroom. My friends have lived in it for 25 years and it was 50 years old when they bought it
    It is superior to my brick built house in every way
    Can I buy one and live in it in England?

  • Joanne Ersser

    I am interested in a plot of land which a 2 bedroom bungalow burnt down in 2000
    It has a mobile home on it and a large out building. Do I need to get outline permission and how much does this cost, does this then show up on the council planning website then someone else buys the land, this is all new to me so some help would be most grateful
    Many thanks
    Joanne Ersser

  • bobthebuilder

    Hi Richard,
    best check with your local planning department. Often you can just put in a revised application but it depends on how substantial the changes are in the eyes of the planners.

  • Richard

    I have (May 2014) OPP for 21 self build plots plus 7 affordable homes.
    To increase the individual size of plots I wish to reduce the numbers to 20 self build including a reduced number of affordable homes.

    Do I need to go through full application again for this reduction in numbers.

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