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I thought I’d write a piece on the above to give an overview of their differences, their requirements and the process of getting approvals where necessary, mainly with respect to residential scenarios as that’s what I know best. It’s a bit long, but hopefully informative. Any corrections gratefully received!
Local Authorities (councils) usually have a Planning Department. They are primarily concerned with how a new building - or alterations or demolition of an existing building - will impact the surrounding environment from both an aesthetic and an infrastructure point of view, and how it will fit in with their grand vision for the future. It’s concerned with things like:
To ensure the above interests are considered, you are required to apply for and obtain Planning Permission approval from your local authority (council) prior to carrying out any proposed works that may affect your neighbours. In addition, in cases where buildings are deemed to have historical importance to society, such as listed buildings, internal alterations also require planning permission and will likely involve heritage departments who can be extremely restrictive in limiting what they will allow you to do (don’t buy a listed building!).
Most local authorities publish ‘supplementary documents’ to give guidance on what is acceptable to save you wasting time on money on applications that are non-starters. As Brighton and Hove is my area, here are some of their supplementary documents which I’m sure include concepts common to other regions too:
BHCC SPD12 - Design Guide for Extensions and Alterations - includes architectural guidance on the preferred appearance, alignment and proportions of alterations, as well as how impact on daylight to your neighbours is measured.
SPGBH11 Listed Building Interiors - guidance on what you can and can’t do to the inside of a listed building.
Making an ApplicationMost authorities now let you apply online, submitting all documents and drawings electronically via the Planning Portal which also contains loads of information and guidance. You will need to submit a plethora of documents and drawings and most people will, at a minimum, require the assistance of an architectural technician to create drawings of a suitable standard. Employing someone more knowledgeable such as an architect will likely give a higher chance of success, and they can also take care of the whole application for you as it can be a time consuming and confusing behemoth if you don’t know the jargon.
This link to the Brighton and Hove Planning dept. gives an idea of what documents and drawings are required for various different application scenarios:Planning application forms and checklists
Local Authority Fees & Timescales:Fees are payable to the Planning Department when submitting an application for Planning Permission. The fee scale is often confusing and can take into account the nature of the development and its size. Fees are due regardless of whether permission is granted or denied and are paid up-front. There is no VAT due on fees (unlike Building Control fees). If permission is denied, you usually have a timeframe within which you can resubmit a revised application under the original fee for further consideration.
A Guide to the Fees for Planning Applications in England (from the Planning Portal website).
Planning Departments should give you a decision within 8 weeks of a compliant application (compliant meaning all the required documents are included) and, if your application is denied, should include reasons why. Sometimes overstretched Planning Departments will request an extension of time, and in some cases it seems their solution for running out of time is to save themselves any effort and deny your proposal. If denied, you can appeal and your application then gets referred to a higher body for re-consideration, but don’t expect to get an answer anytime soon: ‘You’ll normally get a decision within 19 weeks, but it can take longer’
In response to planning departments being overwhelmed by applications for minor alterations, the concept of Permitted Development (PD) was brought in, which gives parameters within which alterations to existing single dwelling buildings can be made without the need for gaining Planning Permission (see exceptions further down).
A typical example of work carried out within PD are single storey rear extensions up to 3m depth (6m with formal neighbour consultation) with various restrictions on eaves height and proximity to boundaries. Another example would be a loft extension with a rear facing roof dormer, with restrictions on height, increase in volume and more.
The government has published a document with useful diagrams outlining what can and can’t be done within the Permitted Development rules:Permitted development for householders - Technical Guidance
You can often design and build something that complies with Permitted Development rules, and so is legal, but would not get consent if you went the formal Planning Permission route, due to obstructing light to your neighbour’s window, for example. If your proposing an extension, it’s well worth keeping your ambitions modest and within the absolute Permitted Development rules if possible rather than risking the more subjective and arduous Planning Permission route.
It’s surprising easy to get excited and misinterpret the PD rules in your favour, and to that end it’s always good to get confirmation from your Planning Department that your proposals are indeed compliant with PD rules. This can be done formally by obtaining a Lawful Development Certificate from your local Planning Department, which is useful when you come to sell or your neighbours complain. It costs about £90 in Brighton and Hove if I recall correctly and does require submitting a load of forms and drawings, so you’ll likely be looking to the services of an architectural technician.
Exceptions Flats, listed buildings and houses in conservation areas do not have Permitted Development rights so you’ll have to go through the Planning application process. That said, if you comply with supplementary guidance then Permitted Development style alterations will be in good shape to get approval. Local authority websites will usually have maps showing conservation areas and a record of listed buildings.
Local authorities will have a Building Control (BC) department that is independent of the Planning Department and is concerned with ensuring buildings perform adequately in terms of safety, comfort, efficiency and longevity. As such, whether you have Planning Permission approval, are working within Permitted Development rules or are just doing internal alterations (i.e. removing a load-bearing wall) you will need Building Regulation approval.
If you’re planning any alterations, they will have to comply with the Building Regulations, which specify a whole range of performance requirements from structural integrity, insulation, weatherproofing, resistance to fire, water efficiency, disposal of waste and sewage and rain water and much more.
If Planning permission is required for your proposals, it’s usually a good idea to get this in place before delving too deep into the Building Regulation aspects as many projects die or change significantly in the planning stage and you’ll waste your money on abortive Building Regs work. That said, Planning and Building Regs are interlinked – your Planning drawings might show a huge expanse of glazing which finds favour with the Planning department but, due to energy losses, won’t pass muster with Building Control. Reducing the glazing to satisfy BC will change the appearance of the building and therefore your hard-won Planning consent will no longer be valid.
Moving on from that debacle, the Building Regulation requirements are documented by a suite of ever changing and freely available Approved Documents and are divided into various parts such as Approved Document A: Structure, or Approved Document C: Resistance to Contaminates and Moisture. They’re generally well written and give good clear guidance and examples of standard construction methods that can be used, whilst still allowing the use of less standard approaches as long as they too can be proven to meet the required criteria.
The requirements for new buildings are generally more severe than for alterations to existing buildings and, to that end, some of the documents are divided into 2 parts, one for each situation.
There are two options to comply with Building Regulations (links go to more detailed information on the Planning Portal):
1. Full Plans Application – Plans and specifications drawn up for approval by Building Control before starting works. Once approval is gained and works begin, a Building Control Officer (BCO) will visit site as works progress to ensure what being built matches that approved. A Completion Certificate is issued upon satisfactory completion of works, which is useful for satisfying probing questions form lawyers when selling or to satisfy insurance or mortgage companies.
2. Building Notice – Instead of getting everything approved in advance, you can give notice given to Building Control (at least 48 hours prior to starting) that you intend to carry out work. No pre-approved plans are submitted, but BC will visit site to ensure what’s being built meets regulations. No Completion Certificate will be issued.
There are also 3rd Party Building Control approval companies who you can use instead of Building Control.
Taking a loft extension as an example and ignoring any Planning requirements, the Full Plans approach would typically require the services of an architect and a structural engineer. The architect will provide drawings and details that include floor plan layouts, weatherproofing, fire proofing and insulation details. A structural engineer would then take these plans and work out what structure is needed to make the proposed arrangement structurally viable – typically determining where new structure is needed and carrying out calculations for the design of steel beams, timber rafters, floor joists, checking existing walls and foundations are suitable for the additional load ensuring overall stability of the arrangement.
If you have a competent builder and you’re confident with their ability to get insulation, weatherproofing and fireproofing details right and to the satisfaction of the BCO, you could dispense with the architect and let your builder go for it on site under a Building Notice. Building Control will still want to see justification for structural aspects (new beams, additional load onto existing structure etc.) so you’ll likely still need a structural engineer to provide calculations and drawings. The risk of this approach is you start building something that isn’t compliant or can’t be proven structurally and you’ll have to re-do work and/or change your plans.
Some trades can self-certify, such as suitably qualified electricians. This means that a Full Plans submission will often only show indicative electrical arrangements, such as positions of lights, switches and sockets, but rather than specify how these will be wired and integrated into existing circuits to form part of a Full Plans approval, will instead state that electrical work should be carried out by a Part P registered electrician who will provide notification to the local Building Control department if necessary.
Local Authority FeesApplication fee’s payable to Building Control are dependent on a combination of the type of work, size, and estimated cost of works. Fees for Full Pans route vs. Building Notice used to be the same, although in Brighton and Hove Building Notice fees are now a bit higher, which perhaps give an insight into which route the BC department prefer. Fee’s for the Full Plans route are separated into a Plan approval charge and the Site Inspections charge, and if the Plan approval is denied, you’ll usually get guidance as to why and the chance to resubmit under the original fee. Fees to Building Control are subject to VAT.
PARTY WALL ACT
You may be losing the will to read any more, but it would be incomplete not to mention the Party Wall Act. Any time you carry out work that effects building fabric that is common to you and a neighbour, i.e bearing a steel beam into a wall that divides you and your neighbour in a terrace house or digging a foundation trench that may undermine foundations to your neighbour’s property you are obliged to comply with the Party Wall Act, guidance here.
http://www.smartbuild.uk.com | Structural Engineer
Fantastic post, thank you for sharing. Could you create a jargon buster for developers. That would be really useful!
Vanessa Warwick Landlord and Co-Founder of PropertyTribes.com **If you have got value from Property Tribes, find out how you can support it in remaining a free to use community resource**
Great post, particularly the advice about buying listed buildings for development - "Don't!" in case you missed it the first time.
One small addition comes to my mind. In the past I've experienced getting to the planning permission approved stage only to think of some things I'd like to do differently. The permission you are granted is to build to the design and principles of the submitted plans. But you can apply for a "minor amendment" to the approved plans. This often only incurs a token admin fee (I think it was £40 last time I did it) and can cover a surprisingly broad range of changes. You'll need to speak to an architect who's used to dealing with the local authority for a more detailed guide to what's likely to be acceptable under this scheme.
Following on from Vanessa's post, I'd be happy to help bust some jargon. The only problem is I'm in too deep now to know what is jargon and what isn't - if anyone wants to post what looks like jargon to them, I'm happy to have a go at decoding it if I can!
Building underground is a good plan sometimes!
Gives the planning officers some issues! :-)))))