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Myth Busters: What do you need planning permission for?

Apart from the battering the country has seen in the last couple of days this is usually the time of year that builders & homeowners alike breath a sigh of relief that the good old British Weather isn’t going to hamper all the extensions going up! But there is lots to do before you get to that stage! I’ve recently been working with Susan Chan who gave me such a great lesson in Planning Permission I asked her to write me a guest blog:

Myth Busters: What do you need planning permission for? by Susan Chan

When I made a late career decision to join Planning Enforcement, those who knew me well expressed their concern. “Do you really want to be one of those Planners who give bad news and point out the errors of people’s actions?” Well, not really, but I see myself as an educator rather than an enforcer.

I often found that people had genuinely tried to research Planning before embarking on a project and had either misinterpreted the regulations or had been ill-advised by the internet, forums and general conversations with a random person at the pub. Of course, when the Enforcer’s come knocking at your door, the so-called experts are nowhere to be seen!

Many myths and assumptions circle the Planning environment, even amongst the very experienced, and here I will bust them for you:

1. Is Planning Permission required for temporary buildings or structures?

Top of the pops is the mantra often peddled by the shed, log cabin, arbour, gazebo etc., sellers that temporary structures are exempt from planning permission. WARNING - major caveat alert! Firstly, what does temporary mean? No foundations don’t necessarily mean that the structure is temporary and building material also doesn’t play a part either. Unless a structure is moveable (on wheels or skids) and moves regularly throughout the day or is so portable that one or two people can move it, then the structure constitutes ‘development’ and may be subject to planning. In planning definition terms, these are defined as ‘outbuildings’.

A useful official website to check out for advice and guidance is Planning Portal

2. Can you demolish a building and replace it without planning permission?

Many think this manoeuvre is fair game, but once something is demolished there is no automatic right of replacement, even if it’s like for like. There have been some well-known enforcement cases where people have found themselves in hotter than hot water after demolishing entire houses claiming they’ve rebuilt a replacement on the same footprint. Please do not try this at home! The replacement build is still subject to planning regulations.

3. What do the new planning laws mean?

Some say the recent government changes to Planning rules mean that X, Y, Z does not need planning permission - not strictly true! Government changes to ‘relax’ the planning regs and allow for householders to build more under permitted rights doesn’t mean you can go ahead and build it tomorrow.

There is still a light touch application process involved called a Prior Notification. Neighbours are still consulted and the application is still assessed on highway, flood risk, pollution and heritage grounds. Unlike a full planning application, which takes at least 8 weeks, a Prior Notification is usually a 28-day process. Councils can still refuse it if there are grave concerns.

Having no formal record of permission is something that crops up regularly when properties are sold and bought. It’s not a solicitor’s job to confirm whether something needed planning permission or not. Regulations change and people retire/move on, therefore the onus is on you to prove whether something is subject to planning permission. Getting confirmation from the Council retrospectively is not an easy or rapid process and a telephone conversation you had with somebody at the Council 30 years ago is not enough.

Before you build, even if you don't need permission, it’s advisable to get something from your local Planning Department in writing, either a permitted development letter or a Certificate of Proposed Lawful Development. It's a small price to pay for long term peace of mind.

4. Is a granny-annexe exempt from planning permission?

Most people fall foul of the myth that granny-annexes are exempt from permission, so make sure you check the regulations.

Regardless of size, an independent dwelling in a garden requires planning permission.

Although you may only refer to it as an annexe, garden room or man-cave, if it's fully equipped with the infrastructure for someone to move in and live, cook, bathe and sleep without ever needing to use the main dwelling, then this is a separate planning unit and full permission is required.

Even a TV aerial, letterbox or putting up a fence to separate it from the main house can inadvertently turn an outbuilding into a separate dwelling.

5. If I extend or alter my home, can I do the same for my business?

There’s an assumption that domestic planning laws extend to business premises, but they plain and simply don’t! Permitted development rights only apply to domestic dwellings. Therefore, an outbuilding within the size parameters may not need permission at your home, but the same rule doesn’t apply to your business address.

Unfortunately, for those who live in flats above commercial premises, something as simple as a shed will require full permission.

The regulations are often not black and white, but numerous shades of grey. What is perhaps even more frustrating is that the Council are not aware of planning breaches unless it is reported to them, so inevitably some people get away with it.

My advice is to always check with the correct authorities and obtain confirmation of exemption before embarking on a new building project to enjoy it without living with the stress of ‘what if?’

Susan Chan, Chartered Town Planner and Founder of HMS Town Planning and Urban Design.

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