03 Jul 2015

Navigating planning permission

While building your own home is an exciting prospect, navigating the complexities of the British planning process can be a real turn-off for many prospective self-builders. Steve Mansour, Group CEO at insurance expert CRL, talks you through the process to ease your concerns.

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As soon as you find your perfect plot, it’s in your best interest to kick off the planning process as soon as you can. Consulting with the local authority’s planning department – either yourself or by proxy – is a great way to determine what you will, and won’t, be able to do. Your local planning department is likely to have some preliminary guidance on their website, if not a full copy of the ‘Local Plan’ that informs planning constraints in the area.

However, councils also offer more formal pre-application advice for a fee, although the cost – and quality – of this can differ greatly from authority to authority. This should hopefully give you a better idea of the key issues that may arise and take steps to sidestep or tackle these as necessary. This guidance can be used to inform your design and when you’re happy with the plans, you can formally submit them for planning approval. This will typically cost under £200, but can differ depending on where your new home is.

While central government has set a target of eight weeks for planning applications to be assessed, some councils are better than others. You will be able to track the progress of your application through the local authority’s website and find out if any problems have been identified. Local planners are highly risk averse and in some cases it can be worth withdrawing and re-submitting an application that encounters difficulties, rather than waiting for refusal. However, we’d always advise consulting with a professional, if possible, before making any rash decisions regarding your application.

Having your self-build plans refused by a local authority can jeopardise the chances of your project ever coming to fruition in its current form. Given the increasing pressure local planners are under, previous refusals can fuel future ones, making a proposed site untenable in the eyes of the local authority.

You can appeal to the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Planning Inspectorate if you think the application has been refused out of hand. However, this comes with its own set of complications and you’re likely to have to wait for at least a year for a response after lodging your appeal.

If everything goes smoothly and you’re granted permission without any constraints, unfortunately the paperwork doesn’t end there. You will still need to ensure the project adheres to UK Building Regulations – a code which governs the safety and structural integrity of a proposed building. Unlike planning permission, Building Regulations are less open to interpretation and your project will succeed or fail based on whether it meets their criteria or not.

Finally, as someone who sees successful self-build projects come to fruition regularly, I hope you are not deterred from building your own home. Constructing your own home is an exciting, and a highly rewarding, project and if the guidelines are followed should be a relatively smooth process.

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