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An introduction to planning

Why you would consider planning

Well done, you’ve survived lockdown, having spent way more hours in your home than you would have done in the ‘good old days of freedom’. You now know exactly how many paces it is from one end of the house to the other, and the space between your four walls that previously seemed adequate to your family’s life, is now feeling smaller. Has the time spent constantly in the same space as your kids playing and your crazy dog running around under your feet made you realise that you really would like more space to spread out? If so, do you know where to begin?

It is likely to be more cost effective to consider an extension or reconfiguration to your existing property than to up sticks and move house. The current economic uncertainty might also add weight to staying put and making the most of what you already own. Adding a room or two to the rear or side of your home can make all the difference to the floorspace and feel of your home. You know your home inside out and know what works and what doesn’t work, so discussing your proposals with a professional architect can unlock solutions that you might not have thought possible to gain that valuable increase in area and usable space. Architects are skilled at opening up and reconfiguring space that can be utilised more effectively without changing the elements you love about your space, ultimately adding value to your property if you decide to move on in the future.

If any of this sounds familiar, BetterPAD can help you realise your dreams of extending and reconfiguring your home. Below we touch on the considerations involved in securing a planning permission, which depending on your requirements, may be needed to extend your property.

So do I need Planning Permission?

If you are looking to build something new or make a major change to your property in England, including the change of use of a building, it is likely that you will need to apply for planning permission from your local authority.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced that reforms to the current planning system will be introduced later in 2020 to kick start the building industry in the face of a recession, which will include the relaxing of planning permission requirements for building above existing properties providing there is neighbour consultation.

Planning policies vary by area and borough, so make sure you check what the requirements are for yours by searching the planning section of the local authority website. You can find your local authority contact details by searching on the Planning Portal here. By doing a search of local authority planning websites for your street or local area, you will get a feel for what type of designs gain planning approval or refusal and can be a good place to start.

Under the current system, after submitting a planning application to your local authority, certain ‘material planning considerations’ are taken into account before a decision is made, these include:

  • overlooking and loss of privacy;

  • loss of daylight or overshadowing;

  • scale and dominance;

  • appearance and materials proposed;

  • impact on character of the area;

  • impact on the local environment;

  • any previous planning decisions;

  • and any pre- application advice.

Other ‘non-material’ considerations are also looked at, which can include:

  • who the applicant is;

  • any loss of views;

  • potential loss of property value;

  • volume of local opposition;

  • construction noise during development;

  • fears of damage to property; and

  • maintenance of the property.

Some home improvement projects will not require a planning approval, but will have ‘permitted development rights’ providing they meet certain conditions. The Planning Portal has a number of interactive guides, which can be found here, to help you work out whether you will need to apply for planning permission or whether permitted development is the way to progress.

If your property is registered as a Listed Building, or sits within a Conservation Area, it will likely have more stringent restrictions or conditions to meet before an application is approved. If you are not sure, you can check whether your property is a Listed Building by visiting the Historic England list here. Around 2% of English building stock appears on the register and fall within one of three ‘grade’ categories - Grade I, being of exceptional interest; Grade II*, buildings that are particularly important and of more than special interest, and Grade II which are of special interest and makeup 92% of the listed buildings in England.

To check whether your property is in a Conservation Area you can check your address on the planning section of your local authority website. Visible alterations to the ‘principle elevation’ will need consent, and even under Permitted Development Rights, certain extensions or reconfigurations are restricted. Certain locations may also be protected by ecological or environmental restrictions, so make sure you do a full check with the relevant local authority before you begin.

Project that did not require planning permission - permitted development

Project that did not require planning permission

Any building project that involves structural alterations will need Building Regulations approval to make sure it complies in terms of fire safety, structural stability, ventilation and drainage. An architect can work alongside the engineer to prepare the detailed drawings required to gain approval. Building Control must be notified before work begins and at key stages during the construction project so they can inspect the progress and check that it meets the relevant regulations.

You may also need to consider a Party Wall Agreement, if the proposed plans affect a shared wall within yours and your neighbour’s property, or if you are excavating down or doing work to boundary walls between gardens. Specialist consultants can handle this process and any negotiations with your neighbours for you, but it’s something to consider around the time that planning permission is sought as it can take time to conclude.

The Application Process

If you want to discuss your proposals for the property with the local authority before you submit a planning application to them, you can request a Pre Application consultation. This often results in a more favourable outcome come planning decision time, as you have shown consideration and awareness of the local planning policies and how your proposals sit within them. There is a charge associated with a pre application consultation however, but this is recommended if your plans might be seen as contentious or out of character within the local area.

Regardless of whether you have gone for pre-application advice or not, you will then need to prepare and submit your planning application (if required). Applications get submitted online via the Planning Portal, which offers a wealth of advice on planning matters if you need assistance.

The Planning Portal lists five things that will have a positive impact on your application:

  • developing good quality design that mediates between ambition and policy;

  • researching relevant planning policies to demonstrate that your application has considered the ‘material considerations’ noted above;

  • building a good relationship with your planning officer which can often be done via an architect or planning consultant with experience of working with that local authority on a regular basis;

  • contacting all relevant parties and keeping them informed - from your neighbours (which you can do yourselves), to any consultants employed to handle the technical details of your application relating to trees, flood risks or engineers (which can be done by your architects); and finally

  • hiring skilled professionals to guide you through this process to make sure that nothing is overlooked

Depending on the type of application identified as being required, the documents that need to accompany your completed application form and fee payable will be listed out on the Planning Portal submission page. These typically include, for householder applications:

  • Location Plan

  • Site Plan

  • Confirmation of ownership of the application site

  • Existing and proposed elevations, floor and roof plans

  • Site sections (if the site is sloping)

  • Parking plan (if converting a garage into living space)

  • Flood risk assessment (if developing in flood zones area 2 or 3)

Once submitted, the application and accompanying documentation is checked and validated before the consultation period begins. Neighbours are notified and asked to view and comment on the proposals, and any relevant experts are consulted for their opinions. It is prudent to discuss your proposals with your direct neighbours before you submit the application so you are aware of any objections before it gets too far along the process. The assigned case officer will visit the site and review any points and concerns raised during the consultation period. All local authorities have a target to issue a planning decision after 8 weeks from the validation date, although some are better at meeting this target than others!

The Outcomes

You will be notified by letter whether your application has been granted or refused. If approved, you may find you have to meet certain conditions attached to it - sometimes relating to materials to be used that would enhance the development or to enable an approval which might otherwise have been refused under local planning policy. If these conditions are not discharged through a separate online process, your planning approval could become invalidated. You will have three years from the granting of approval to begin work before the application expires.

If the local authority refuse the application, they will explain on what grounds it has been refused, and you could amend the scheme to mitigate these concerns and resubmit it, however at an additional cost to you. The planning officer should be available to discuss the reasons behind the refusal and give you some advice if you request it. This is where the pre-application process proves to be useful as you will understood any planning concerns before having submitted the application and waited the 8 weeks for a refusal.

If you believe the refusal has been on unreasonable grounds, as a last resort you could submit an appeal to the Secretary of State, but these are lengthy and costly processes with no set timelines that can take months to resolve.

Next Steps

This post has explained the basis of the planning approval process. It is a complex area so it’s advisable to discuss your plans with an experienced architect or planning consultant. Planning policy is regularly reviewed and professionals keep abreast of these changes and can guide you through from start to finish.

Remember that you fell in love your home for a reason when you bought it, say not put those difficult months of lockdown behind you and let BetterPAD help you fall in love with your home all over again.

If this sounds like something that you’re considering, please get in touch with us for an initial consultation to see how we can make your home meet your family needs again.

Note: this advice relates to the planning process in England only. The planning systems in the rest of the United Kingdom varies so be sure to check the requirements if you live in one of the devolved administrations.

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