How do I get planning permission and what do I need it for?

The trickiest part of building or improving isn’t laying the bricks – it’s getting your local authority to sign off the plans!

Planning permission drawings, plans and measurements

Planning permission – could they be the two scariest words in the English language?

Sources for this article: Self Build, Kirk-Brown LtdPlanning Portal (PDF, 249 KB), Planning Portal

As anyone who’s ever built, changed or extended their home will tell you, getting your local authority to approve the plans can often be the most difficult part of the whole project.

But, if you stick to your guns, plan ahead and produce a great plan, the good news is you are highly likely to be successful: in fact, in 2020, local authorities in England approved 87% of all planning applications.

Source: Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (PDF, 1612 KB) 

If this is your first time trying for planning permission, here’s a simple run-through of how to do it – and the kind of projects you might need it for.

What do I need planning permission for?

Not every project will need permission from your local authority, however, it’s best to check to be sure. If you push ahead with a project that you later find out needed approval, you could incur huge fees and even be forced to knock the construction down!

Sources: Planning Portal, HomeOwners Alliance

Here are the types of project for which you should definitely seek planning permission before doing anything:

1. Extensions

Not all extensions require planning permission. However, you will need it if any of these apply to your project:

  • You are extending by more than half the area of land around the house as it stood in 1948
  • You are building higher than the highest part of the roof
  • You are building wider than the principal elevation of the front or side of the property
  • You are building a single storey extension that extends more than 8 metres beyond the rear wall of a detached house, or 6 metres for any other type of house
  • Your single storey extension is more than 4m high
  • Your side extension is more than half the width of the original house
  • You intend to use materials that are noticeably different to those used in the original house
  • Your extension includes a veranda, balcony or other type of platform

All of these limitations apply to conservatories, garages, sheds and outbuildings too – so, for instance, you can build a garage without planning permission so long as it’s no more than 4m high, uses similar materials to the original house and doesn’t take up more than half the land in the 1948 plan of your house.

2. Gardens

You usually don’t need planning permission to make landscaping changes to your property. However, if you intend to pave over your front garden, you will need to make sure you are using porous materials – otherwise you may need planning permission.

3. Windows and doors

You probably won’t need planning permission to make changes to your windows or doors. However, if your building is listed or in a conservation area, you should always consult your local authority – even if you are only repairing damage, you may be limited to certain types of materials!

4. Fences and Walls

You are usually free to install a fence or wall. However, you will need planning permission for the following:

  • Any fence or wall over 2m high
  • Anything next to a road and over 1m high
  • If it will form a boundary with a listed building
  • If your property is listed itself

5. Energy efficient installations

There are many types of energy efficient changes you can make to your property, some of which will require substantial changes to the building.

Most of these changes do not require planning permission, unless you live in a listed building or a conservation area, and so long as the work being done will not affect the original plans of the building.

So, whether you are installing solid wall insulation, solar panels or even adding ground source heat pumps to the building, you will not usually require planning permission.

Interested to know more about the types of energy efficient installations you could make to your home? Visit the Halifax Green Living hub to find out more, including schemes that could help you pay for the work.

How do I get planning permission?

The exact steps will be different depending on the type of project you’re interested in, which is why it’s best to speak to a builder or architect early on. However, you will normally have to go through these stages:

1. Figure out if you need planning permission

If you’re thinking of adding an entirely new building, a substantial extension or if you’re making changes to either a listed building or one in a conservation area, you will probably need planning permission.

2. Create plans

The rule of thumb here is: the more detailed your plans, the more likely you are to be successful.

This is why it usually helps to get a builder or an architect in to help – they can help you to create plans which will make clear what the finished project will look like.

3. Gather all the reports you need

Depending on the scale of the project, where you live and your rules of your local authority, you may need to carry out special reports or surveys to ensure your development won’t lead to problems down the line. The authority handling your planning application may ask for these things specifically.

At the very least, you’ll need to think about things like:

  • Waste storage and collection, in order to show that bin lorries can access and remove your waste
  • Utilities, to show how your property will connect to the gas and electricity network
  • Sewage, to ensure you can access the local sewage lines without impacting them
  • Flood risk, to prove your property is not in a high-risk area of flooding

There are many other things you may need to look into as well, especially if your building is likely to cause disruption, affect the environment or change the character of your home.

Some of these things may require the help of other professionals. They include:

  • A noise survey if your building work could cause lots of disruption
  • A sustainability plan to ensure your development will not impact the environment
  • A sightline survey if your new building could stand in the way of protected sight lines
  • A ‘right to light’ survey, to ensure your work won’t cast a shadow over your neighbour’s property
  • A tree survey, especially if you’re planning to chop down any old trees on your property
  • An endangered animal survey to look for critters such as owls, badgers or bats
  • An archaeological survey if you are planning to dig up previously un-excavated land
  • A heritage statement if you are planning to change the character of an old building, especially if it’s Listed or in a conservation area
  • A contamination survey – if you are planning to build on brownfield land, this will check if the soil is not contaminated

Make sure you’re thorough during this stage of your application, as failure to include an essential report or survey could lead to problems down the line.

4. Gather all your documentation

Once you’ve got your architectural plan and your reports and surveys filled in, you’ll need to submit them to your local authority.

You can usually do this online, however, if you’re doing it in person, make sure to include five copies of the authority’s planning application form along with all the other documentation you need, such as:

  • A certificate of ownership for the land and/or existing property
  • A Design and Access Statement ­– especially for a major development – which is a statement explaining how the building is suitable for the site and its setting, and how it can be adequately accessed
  • A fee

The fee will depend on the type of application you’re making. You can work out how much it will cost you by using the Planning Portal’s online calculator.

5. Sit back, relax… and hope!

Gaining planning permission is by no means a quick process.

Most local authorities will take between 6-8 weeks to respond to your proposal, but could take even longer if the plan is large or complex. If approval is granted, you will receive notice in writing.

Planning permission lasts for three years, so you must start development within that time. Remember also that planning permission applies to the land, so if you sell during those three years, you are selling the land with planning permission already attached.

If your plan is rejected, or approved subject to conditions you don’t find acceptable, you can appeal to the Secretary of State. You may also be able to submit a modified version of your proposal within 12 months, without incurring an extra fee – if your local authority are feeling generous, that is.

For more helpful advice on home ownership, including tips like these on how to make the most of your home, continue reading Home by Halifax