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If you are interested in undertaking a major home improvement project, applying for planning permission is not something which you can afford to ignore! Planning permission is usually required for creating any new dwellings, whether  scratch or via subdivision or conversion. It can also be necessary for projects which alter the external appearance of a property.

Some people view the application process as overly complicated; while this can sometimes be the case, it is still worth doing it right! While you can make as many planning applications as you like, every single one will still cost money. It should also go without saying that trying to get around planning law very rarely ends well. Not only could you receive substantial fines for doing work without proper permission, but you could also be ordered to undo everything at your own expense.

One of the best things you can do to help with your application is to speak with a local planning consultant. They should be familiar with local planning laws and will also be able to assess your plans to let you know just how feasible they are. It can also be useful to have plans for your project drawn by up an experienced local architectural designer.

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Applying for planning permission

As we mentioned previously, if you want to apply for planning permission then it is worth taking your time and doing everything the right way. One reason why is the costs involved: while you can make as many applications as you want for the same piece of land, doing so will not be free. You can also be required to pay fees for the discharge of ‘planning conditions’, which will need to be met before your approved work can begin.

The second reason is the amount of detail required for a successful application. It is not just a matter of filling out a single form online!

A proper application must be submitted with:

  • Five copies of application forms
  • Signed ownership certificate
  • Site plan
  • Block plan
  • Elevations of existing and proposed sites
  • Design and access statement
  • Appropriate fee

What happens after applying for planning permission?

After you have made your application, your local planning department will check to make sure that you have included all of the necessary documents, along with the fee. After this, it should take between 10 and 12 weeks for your application to be considered.

At this point, several ‘material considerations’ will be taken into account. This simply refers to how your proposed work could impact surrounding properties and amenities, as well as the physical details of the work itself.

‘Material considerations’ include:

  • Noise
  • Impact on listed building and Conservation Area
  • Layout and density of building
  • Design, appearance and materials
  • Government policy
  • Disabled access
  • Proposals in the development plan
  • Previous planning decisions
  • Nature conservation
  • Overlooking/loss of privacy
  • Loss of light or overshadowing
  • Parking
  • Highway safety
  • Traffic

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Your Local Planning Authority (LPA) will also contact the local Highways department regarding your application, along with the Environmental Agency if required.

During this phase of your application, a sign will be posted outside the address where the proposed work will take place. Any neighbours who could be affected will also be invited to comment on the application, though the council will usually only take complaints regarding material considerations into account. A councillor may decide to take your application to a committee hearing, in which case you or an agent acting on your behalf will have three minutes to argue your case.

If your planning application is approved, you will usually have three years to actually undertake the work. Keep in mind that if you fail to get it done within this time, you will have to reapply. 

You may also be given ‘planning conditions’ for your project. For example, you could be required to use materials which match those used on the original building in question. If you fail to meet these conditions you could be served with a ‘breach of condition notice’. You could also be prosecuted by your LPA.

After your application is granted, it will still be possible for you to make minor alterations to your design. However, you will need to apply for a non-material amendment to do so. Any significant changes will require you to make another full planning application.

What if my application is refused?

If your planning application is refused, don’t panic - your LPA will let you know exactly why it was not approved, allowing you to make amendments and re-submit it at a later date. 

Alternatively, you can make an appeal to the planning inspectorate. However, only around 40% of refused applications tend to be accepted at this stage. 

Planning permission tips

There are a number of useful pieces of advice which can help with your planning application. That said, we cannot stress how important it is that you ignore any ‘tips’ that suggest trying to get around planning law by taking advantage of loopholes. 

A favourite that some people use is to try and ‘hide’ home improvements. If no enforcement actions are taken within four years, no legal action can then be taken by the council. However, LPAs are quite happy to exploit loopholes of their own. In one case, a farmer who hid his work with tarpaulin and hay bales was told that this showed it was an ‘ongoing project’ and thus exempt from the four-years law. Long story short, he wasted a lot of money and ended up with nothing to show for it.

While making home improvements without planning permission is not strictly illegal, your LPA can still fine you and order you to undo all of your work (at your own expense). Making non-permitted alterations to a listed building on the other hand is a criminal offence.

With that said, here are some genuine tips for making a successful planning application:

  • Planning laws tend to vary between different local authorities. It can be a good idea to check the rules for your own authority before doing anything else. Remember, a planning consultant will be familiar with local laws.
  • You can apply for planning permission on any piece of land you want, even if you do not own it. This can be a good way to gauge the potential of a property before you buy.
  • You do not always need planning permission for a home improvement project. Permitted development rights cover outbuildings and extensions, as well as internal conversions, but only to a certain extent. You should always familiarise yourself with local rules first.
  • If you think that your application will be refused, you can always withdraw and resubmit it free of charge later on.
  • It is legal to make several applications for the same site. Just make sure that the one you use is still in date!