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Detailed Planning Permission

This is a very different matter from outline planning permission and as the name suggests, the fine details of the design are ironed out at this stage. This can in some cases be very detailed indeed. For instance, if you want to build in an existing conservation area it may well get right down to the exact type of door knocker you want to use or whether you are allowed roses near your driveway.

The strange vagaries of the planning process

The planning process is a strange beast. A huge amount of the most interesting and valuable building in the UK would never have got planning permission according to present regulations

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Shambles, York

The Shambles, York

Take for example the Shambles in York which is visited by tourists from all over the world and admired for its charm. It is a mixture of uses, styles, angles shapes, materials, textures and colours which have come together over a long time period without any help from planners. This is typical of countless towns and villages throughout the country. Yet if you tried to emulate this hotchpotch approach to development then the local planning department would have a seizure. Contrast this with the vast areas of ugly and boring urban development which planners have happily sanctioned.

The legislation controlling planning policy is contained in the NPPF.

Planning law and policy has largely lost the initiative in terms of green design for a number of complex reasons. Suffice to say that planners (and possibly society in general in the UK) have a very half hearted attitude to eco-build. When it comes to a choice between ‘ecologically sound’ and  ‘matching all the other houses in the street’ then cONSERVATISM usually wins. Don’t expect to be treated particularly kindly for being green unless you are in some kind of specially designated government category or area. Having said that, there is now legislation allowing solar collectors on roofs providing they are close to the roof surface.

Building without permission

Occasionally you hear of people building a house without planning permission. This is usually very unwise. You can apply retrospectively but the chances are there will be some aspect of what you have built which does not comply and at that point you may find you don’t get a lot of sympathy from either planners or councilors.

Where to start

To get an idea of what is acceptable design for a self build project you can try looking around at buildings in the same locality. For instance if there are houses in the same street with the same number of stories, similar features and similar building materials then there is a fair chance you can do something similar. Precedence is a very important principle in gaining consent.

An exception to this is when an area suddenly changes from street to street. For instance there might be an area of old Georgian housing right next to another area of 1970s housing. Possibly the Georgian housing has been designated as a conservation area which is very strictly controlled as to what you can and cannot build whereas it might be possible to build anything you like in the 1970s area. However the whole business can be extremely inconsistent and planners opinions have been known to alter almost overnight.

If you are employing an architect they will probably advise you on all this; if not then it is worth going along to have a brief chat with the planners at your local council office. They are usually very helpful about telling you what kind of approach they think is acceptable and they may have written planning guidance which has been developed for the area.

When you put in an application, a notice is fixed in a prominent place near the site in question so that neighbours are made aware of your possible intentions. They can then write in with objections (or even letters of support!) to the planning department. It is of course quite common for neighbours to object because they quite like to take their dog for a walk on that bit of empty land. The planners have to weigh up which objections carry weight and which are just nimby (Not In My Back Yard). They do this by considering the government’s Planning Policy Guidance Notes and by consulting other council officers such as highways, strategic planning, conservation, tree conservation, etc.


When planning permission is given it usually comes with a set of conditions and these are usually quite heavily peppered with clauses about road traffic including sight lines and parking.

If you experience problems getting the permission you want then there are various levels of appeal you can go for but it pays to first of all make sure you are not wasting your time (and money). See Taking on the planners

Change of use

The Town and Country Planning Order puts uses of land and buildings into various categories known as ‘Use Classes’. If you want to change the use class (possibly without making any changes to a building) you may well have to apply for planning permission. See the Planning Portal site on this.

To actually apply for outline planning permission:

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

see also the government Planning Portal site

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