06 Mar 2018

The dos and don’ts of planning permission

Although planning permission exists in order to protect the UK’s cherished villages, towns and cities, it can often be the cause of enormous frustration. Complete with an often thorny application process and uncertain outcomes, planning permission is nevertheless the golden ticket needed to build on your dream home, from a prospective kitchen extension to a longed-for basement conversion.

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Here Jude Tugman, Managing Director at Architect Your Home, gives her top-10 dos and don’ts to help guide you through the process that every self-builder must partake in.

Do

1. Accept that you won’t be able to predict the outcome
With so much investment, energy and time at stake, homeowners understandably want certainty, but the reality is that the planning process for a home renovation can be unpredictable. Schemes and drawings you might think should be perfectly acceptable can be rejected, while others you’d imagine having problems may sail through. Exacerbating things further, it’s difficult to get any certainty before you go through the time and expense of an application.

First things first, it is essential to accept it can be an uncertain process. Make sure you allow sufficient time for your project to not go through first time, just in case. If your timeline is tight, you will without a doubt feel frustrated if your plans are pushed back eight weeks or so. Try to be as flexible as possible, and expect the unexpected.

2. Get acquainted with local policy
To get the best chance of approval, I would definitely recommend swotting up on your local policy and design guidance, which will be published by your council. Every local authority has heaps of planning policy, often supplemented by useful guidance documents on such things as ‘residential extensions’. Though it often makes for fairly dull reading, these guides do outline the parameters against which your scheme will be assessed.

If your design doesn’t keep in line with such a policy, you may want to think again, but often it’s not so clear-cut and it’s about making a case and defending your choices. Planning departments put a great deal of effort into writing these policies and may be unimpressed if you submit a scheme that has obviously been prepared with no acknowledgement to published guidelines.

3. Chat with your neighbours
Speaking to your neighbours in advance of a planning application, both from the perspective of good manners and the fact that you’ll be living next door to each other for the foreseeable future, is always a good idea.

However, the notion that an objection from a neighbour will be fatal to your application couldn’t be more wrong. Neighbour opinions can only flag up issues of policy that the planning officers will almost certainly be scrutinising anyway. Plenty of applications go through in spite of significant neighbour objections and, conversely, some schemes get refused that have significant local support. The reality is, it often makes little difference.

4. Gather sufficient information
Most planning departments will not accept an application if they feel insufficient information has been provided so it’s always best practice to try to ensure as much as possible is included. A set of clear drawings of the ‘existing’ and ‘proposed’, with accurate dimensions, a scale bar and north point, and a location plan is fairly basic. Even if you’re only changing one floor of a house, the planners will generally want all the floorplans, elevations and so on.

5. Employ an architect to help
An architect’s knowledge and experience is invaluable; as well as offering design expertise, they can also add value to your home project in many other ways, including providing guidance and negotiation help with planning and permissions. Though they can be expensive, they don’t have to be.

Don't

1. Blame the officer
If your first application is refused, it seems easy to blame the planning officer responsible. The reality is that planning officers only follow and implement strict planning policy, so often it’s the policy that’s being ‘unreasonable’, not the officer. It is often the case that planning officers will love the designs and vision of an application, but due to restriction in policy, they are forced to reject it. So don’t jump to blame the officer – try taking a closer look at your local policy first.

2. Try to be clever
There seem to be so many theories about the best way to ‘persuade’ planning that your scheme is acceptable. A common idea is to go in with a scheme that pushes the boundaries further than you want on the basis that you’ll be able to negotiate with planning back to where you wanted to be in the first place. Others think they can ‘sneak’ things through unnoticed, putting in a bland application and then building something more.

In my experience, none of these games tend to work, at best; causing delays and frustration and at worst; enforcement. So the best strategy is to go in for what you want and what you believe you can justify in the light of policy.

3. Write anything off
Many people think that nothing can be done to a listed building and there’s no chance of getting anything through in a conservation area. Neither of these is true. The key is working with an experienced designer, who can work with the parameters within which your home is constrained, and being open to other ways to achieve what you want.

4. Forget you have just three years!
An often overlooked fact is that once you receive your planning permission, you have to start implementing it within three years. Long gone are the days when developers started projects by merely erecting a fence and digging a hole in the hope that a much later start would also retain the validity of the permission. Today, you have to demonstrate to the council that you’ve made what’s referred to as a ‘meaningful start’ on construction, so don’t hang about!

5. Start work anyway
Starting work before receiving your permissions is highly risky and potentially very costly. Worryingly, a survey carried out by Architect Your Home found that 17% of interviewees had started work or were planning to start without investigating whether they needed permission. A planning breach in itself is not illegal and the council will often permit a retrospective application where planning permission has not been sought, but try to avoid it if you can – refusal to comply with consequent council enforcements could result in prosecution!

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