Planning Permission: The Complete Guide


Planning permission is the key that turns the corner of a field or large garden into a building plot. In the south-east of England, an acre of agricultural land is worth about £15,000, but with planning permission for residential development, after all costs are deducted, it’s worth £500,000.

But securing planning permission can be a difficult process and especially daunting for those building their own home for the first time.

If you are looking to submit a planning application, this guide explains all you need to know about the process — from what planning permission is and when you need it, through to costs and timescales, all the way to what an application involves and what to do if your application has been rejected.

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What is Planning Permission?

The building of a new dwelling, or extensive changes to existing buildings, usually requires planning permission. The system is in place to deter inappropriate development.

Decisions on whether to grant planning permission are made in line with national guidance (in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework) and the local planning policies set out by the local authority.

(MORE: The Complete Guide to Self Build)

How Much Does a Planning Application Cost?

The cost is currently £462 for a full application for a new single dwelling in England, but this fee is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For home improvers, an application in England for an extension currently costs £206, whereas in Wales the cost of a typical householder application is currently £190.

Since April 2008, all local planning departments use the same application form, known as 1APP, you can find the appropriate form for your area and complete the application process online at the Planning Portal.

As well as fees for pre-application advice, further small sums are payable for the discharge of planning conditions which must be met before development begins.

Also bear in mind that you may need to make more than one planning application in order to reach agreement with the council  and make revisions to your plans accordingly (which may involve further architect/designer fees). A minimum budget of around £2,000 (including architects’ plans and specialist reports) is probably realistic for getting planning permission.

How Long Does Planning Permission Last?

All planning permissions automatically expire after a certain period. Unless your permission says otherwise, you have three years from the date full consent is granted to begin building.

Depending on how soon your consent expires, you may take different steps to get your project started. If the expiry date is imminent, it may be best to reapply to ensure you have adequate time to plan effectively.

If you have sufficient time to make what is known as a ‘material start’ then it may be best to secure the permission in perpetuity, allowing you the time needed to get started properly.

Avoid buying a plot with permission that is about to expire — consent will expire before you have chance to get started. This is especially relevant on consents that were hard fought or where planning policy may have changed. Securing new permission may not always be possible. 

When Do I Need Planning Permission?

If your project involves the creation of a new dwelling (by either building from scratch or subdividing an existing home), then planning permission is normally required.

Larger outbuildings or extensions, or builds/improvements in Designated Areas or involving listed buildings, are also likely to require planning permission.

Smaller additions and improvements can normally be made under Permitted Development.

What Type of Planning Permission Do I Need?

Full Planning Permission

This grants permission for a project with a detailed design. But before going full steam ahead on site, the planning conditions attached to the consent must be discharged. They must be discharged (satisfied) formally by letter by the local authority, usually before commencing work — otherwise the approval is invalidated.

Outline Planning Permission

This grants permission in principle, but does not include design specifics. It is important to note that outline planning consent 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.

If your detailed plans deviate significantly from the original outline planning then you’ll likely need to submit for full planning.

Also, if you are keen to start your project quickly, then it makes sense to apply for full planning permission.

How Long Does Approval Take?

Local authorities are supposed to determine planning applications within 10-12 weeks of registration, and the majority of straightforward householder applications will be dealt with within this time frame.

A sign is posted outside the address relating to the proposed development and any neighbours likely to be affected are written to and invited to view the plans and to comment. This is known as the public consultation process and it takes three to eight weeks. The authority will make statutory consultations to the local Highways department, and where necessary the Environment Agency as well as others.

Realistically, if you are having to make more than one application (following revisions or changes to the design), you should consider setting aside 18 months for the process.

Should I Use a Planning Consultant?

Many people will appoint a planning consultant before they even buy a plot, to work out the potential of a development. This could save you thousands of pounds on buying a project that turns out not to be feasible.

Planning consultants have full knowledge of the ever-changing planning policies that any project will be subject to. So, whether you are extending, renovating or building a new home, their help could be indispensable — especially if your project is in an area of which carries restrictions such as a Conservation Area or AONB.

What Should I Include in my Planning Application?

In general terms, an application should include:

  • five copies of application forms
  • the signed ownership certificate
  • a site plan, block plan, elevations of both the existing and proposed sites,
  • a Design and Access Statement
  • the correct fee

What’s a Design and Access Statement?

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 are Applications Decided?

The local authority will base its decision on what are known as ‘material considerations’, which can include (but are not limited to):

  • Overlooking/loss of privacy
  • Loss of light or overshadowing
  • Parking
  • Highway safety
  • Traffic
  • Noise
  • Impact on listed building and Conservation Area
  • Layout and density of building
  • Design, appearance and materials
  • Government policy
  • Disabled access
  • Proposals in the development plan
  • Previous planning decisions
  • Nature conservation

Neighbours will be consulted and invited to comment, together with parish councils (in England and Wales), but only those objections based on material considerations are taken into account.

If the neighbours do not object and the officers recommend approval, they will usually grant planning permission for a householder application using what are known as delegated powers.

What If Someone Objects?

Like it or not, when you build things, you risk upsetting people. It may not be rational, but people get very emotional about changes that they fear will affect their home, their view or their property’s value – or even just the street they live on.

So it pays to be polite, to talk to the neighbours and to show then the plans. If you can accommodate minor changes without undermining your goals then it might be worth doing if it could help avoid local objections.

If there are objections or the application is called into a committee by one of the local councillors, then the decision will be made by a majority vote by the local planning committee. At the planning meeting, you or your agent will be given an opportunity to address the planning committee, but this time is limited to a maximum of three minutes.

Face-to-face meetings can be helpful in thrashing out the justification for objections Requests for changes should be based on planning policies and they should be consistent with other recent decisions in the area.

Can I Alter my Design Once I Have Full Planning Permission?

You can make minor alterations by applying for a non-material amendment. However, major alterations could involve a further application for Full planning permission, so discuss your plans with your LPA first.

What Happens if my Planning Application is Refused?

In England around 75% of applications are granted. If your application is rejected, you can either amend and resubmit having dealt with the reasons for refusal, or you can make an appeal to the planning inspectorate.

Around 40% of householder applications that are refused are later granted at appeal.

Can I Go Ahead Without Planning Permission?

While it is not illegal to develop land without planning permission, it is not lawful and, consequently, if you have failed to get consent for your project, then the local planning authority can take action to have the work altered or demolished. In this instance, you can make a retrospective planning application and if this is refused you can appeal the decision. If you lose, it can prove very costly.

There is a legal loophole: if no enforcement action is taken within four years of completion, the development becomes immune from enforcement action (10 years for a change of use). The development then becomes lawful — but this is too great a risk to take.

Altering a listed building without prior permission is, however, a criminal offence, and in extreme cases it can lead to prosecution and unlimited fines — and even imprisonment. So do ensure you apply for approval first.

Can I Get Permission for a Home in the Countryside?

Many believe it is harder to get planning permission if you are building a home in the countryside. However it certainly isn’t out of the question as our guide to planning permission in the countryside explains.

In fact, under Paragraph 79 (formerly Paragraph 55) of the National Planning Policy Framework, it is even possible to build in green belt land, if your project can be shown to be of particular architectural merit and worth.

Planning Permission – 5 Things to Know

  • You can make a planning application on any piece of land in the country — you don’t have to own it
  • Your planning decision should take no longer than eight weeks from the point of application
  • The objections of neighbours and local people may well not have any impact on the final decision
  • You can withdraw an application at any time — so if you think you are going to get a refusal, you can withdraw it at any time up to the day itself, and resubmit free of charge
  • You can submit an infinite number of planning applications on any one site — and choose which one to use. As long as it is current, you don’t have to use the most recent

For further advice on planning, buy How to Get Planning Permission by Roy Speer and Michael Dade.

With thanks to Ken Dijksman.

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