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). The actual legislation is contained in the NPPFNational Planning Policy Framework (see the government web site).
Don’t confuse planning permission with Building RegulationsThese are the mass of regulations that cover safety, health, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency etc. in the way buildings are constructed. Not to be confused with Planning consent (which is more to do with whether you can put up the building in the first place). See more on the 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:
In England and Wales the government Planning Portal is a good place to start with making an on line application.
For Northern Ireland try the Planning NI
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 cannot get it
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[for the purposes of part B (fire) of the Approved Documents to the Building Regulations] this includes - (a) any gallery[for the purposes of part B of the Approved Documents] - A raised area or platform around the sides or at the back of a room which provides extra space. if its area is more than half that of the space into which it projects; and (b) a roof, unless it is accessible only for maintenance and repair. 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.
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 permissionthe legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building Regulations which are all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning the legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building Regulations which is all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning. 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 CThe Approved documentsApproved documents (England) are detailed publications which come under the English Building Regulations. They are based on tried and tested methods of building and if you follow them you are assured of complying with the Regs. The equivalents for Scotland are the Technical HandbookUnder the Scottish Building Regulations, the Technical Handbook gives construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations, for Wales: the Approved documents (Wales), and for N.I. the Technical BookletsUnder the Northern Ireland Building Regulations, the Technical Booklets give construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations, (England) part C, deals with Site preparation and resistance to contaminants (C1) and Resistance to Moisture (C2) (in the Approved Document) – “Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture” (England) defines the changes of use as:
- the building is used as a dwelling, where previously it was not;
- the building contains a flat, where previously it did not;
- the building is used as a hotel or boarding house, where previously it was not;
- the building is used as an institution, where previously it was not;
- the building is used as a public building, where previously it was not;
- the building is not a building described in Classes 1 to 6 in Schedule 2, where previously it was;
- the building, which contains at least one dwelling, contains a greater or lesser number of dwellings than it did previously;
- the building contains a room for residential purposes, where previously it did not;
- 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
- 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
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/ hectare10,000 square metres (ie. 100m x 100m) A hectare is very nearly 2.5 acres 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.
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 SSSISite of Special Scientific Interest 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.
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 CILCommunity infrastructure levy. See more on the Planning Advisory website
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
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 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 http://www.norwich.gov.uk/Planning/Pages/PublicAccess.aspx
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.