Your most common questions answered

You have ambitions to extend your home or build from new.  This is an exciting project but one that needs to be done correctly if you are going to enjoy your new space into the future.  Understanding the planning process before you begin can help you avoid unnecessary stress and costs. 

Planning permission is the consent you need to obtain from your local planning authority before you can start certain building works. You don't always need planning permission—there are even some circumstances where you can build a complete extension or conservatory without it (through permitted development)—but it's essential to obtain the relevant consents when it is required.

Obtaining planning permission can be a complicated process, as there are many factors to take into account before approval can be granted. Here we offer detailed guidance on the planning process. Remember, each case is different, often in very subtle ways, so we would always recommend contacting one of our qualified planning consultants for bespoke guidance.

If you need planning permission, then the type you need will fall into one of the following categories. The category that applies to you depends on the nature of the proposed works.

Householder planning permission

Householder planning permission applies to all those who own a house. If you're looking to build an extension, garage, or conservatory, or thinking about converting your loft, you may well need this type of permission. Your local authority will grant consent for the proposed alteration or addition, including the detailed design. There may be planning conditions attached, which will need to be satisfied and approved in writing by your local planning authority before works can commence on site.

Certificate of Lawful Development

A Certificate of Lawful Development is issued by the Local Authority confirming that specific works can be carried out to your house without planning permission. It will give you peace of mind, knowing that your architect has designed your extensions to meet all the relevant guidance set out within the General Permitted Development Order and that it is indeed lawful.

Full planning permission

Full planning permission is relevant to the majority of applications that do not fall under the Householder category. This permission will apply if you own a flat, plot of land, commercial property if you live in a converted house or perhaps you would like to split your home into flats, or you want to build an entirely new house? There will often be planning conditions attached and, before works can start, you will need to obtain a formal letter from your local planning authority confirming that the conditions have been met—also known as 'discharging' conditions.

Outline planning permission

Outline planning permission is used to reduce the risk involved in the relatively high fees when designing complex schemes. You can choose what details to give to your local planning authority which can relate to appearance, means of access, landscaping, layout and scale. This only covers the broad strokes of the proposed works, such as what it is you're looking to do and how big it will be. Once outline permission has been granted, you will need to apply for approval of the remaining details—also called 'reserved matters'—before the works can go ahead. This type of planning permission is usually only sought for large-scale works and developments.

There are several types of extensions you can build without planning permission through what's called Permitted Development. Permitted Development guidance can be a minefield of information. We have included a link below to the government's planning portal which consists of some handy interactive guides highlighting what can and can't be built without planning permission.

Here are some of the most common types of permitted developments allowed, including but not limited to:

- Single storey side/rear extensions
- Two-storey rear extensions
- Loft conversions
- Dormer windows
- Porches
- Outbuildings

It is important to note that there are a great many rules and regulations. Since most houses are unique, we would always advise that you get in touch with a professional planning consultant before making an application. An initial consultation should be free and can save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

If your project does not fall within the 'Permitted Development' category, you will more than likely need to submit a planning application to the local planning authority. You can do this, or you can task your architect to take care of it on your behalf. It is vital to submit an application that adheres to and takes into account the factors prescribed in the applicable planning policies. Factors to consider can include any number of considerations, including whether the project will:

- Maintain the area's character
- Avoid any overlooking or a loss of privacy
- Create limited noise
- Provide sufficient parking
- Maintain light levels to neighbouring gardens and windows

Your architect should have an excellent understanding of all the relevant local policies and have the experience to design extensions which meet the above requirements.

Planning permission is decided per the guidance set out in the applicable planning policies. At a minimum, both the National Planning Policy Framework ("NPPF") and your local authority's Local Plan will apply. There may also be regional policies that sit between the national and local policies, e.g. the London Plan for the Greater London area.

The local policy will have been created according to the policy requirements and guidelines in the regional policy. In turn, this will have been designed following the NPPF. Your local authority will no doubt also have further supplementary planning guidance/policies, such as those relating to house extensions or sustainable development, that will also be taken into account during the decision process, where applicable. Within the guidelines prescribed by these various documents, the local authority planning officer retains a significant degree of discretion, meaning that works falling within the guidelines are not always necessarily approved.

It is also worth bearing in mind that a notice will be sent to the owners of neighbouring properties to allow them to register any concerns or objections they may have to the plan once the application has been validated by the local authority.

If the process goes smoothly, it usually takes about 9 weeks from the time an application is submitted for planning permission to be granted. More significant and complex projects typically take near to 13 weeks. This allows for consideration by the local planning authority of all facts, as well as sufficient time for public consultation. However, if there are issues with the application, negotiation over elements of the design, or objections by neighbouring property owners, the process can take longer.

Once your application has been validated, objections may be raised, allowing your planning consultant to liaise with the planning officer and amend your application to try and overcome these objections. This is one of the many reasons it is so important to have a good relationship with the planning officer assigned to your case.

Occasionally, an application is refused, at which point there are, broadly speaking, two options:

You can work with your planning officer to understand their concerns and resubmit an amended application that has a better chance of success. This resubmission is free of charge if the outcome of the new proposal is mainly similar to the original.

You can register an official appeal if the application is refused. However, this appeal should be considered a last resort once all possible avenues of compromise have been exhausted. You have 12 weeks from the date of the refusal of a householder planning application to lodge your appeal, which can take the form of written representations, an informal hearing, or a public inquiry. Note that certain householder appeals (e.g. regarding an extension) can only be made by written representation.

Written Representations

A written representation is the most common form of appeal and also the quickest, taking up to 12 weeks for a householder appeal. An independent inspector makes a decision based on a site visit as well as written statements and responses to the decision notice.

Formal Hearing

A formal hearing is determined and led by an inspector. It involves site visits, discussions and an investigation to identify the issues. A final decision will be made within 37 weeks.

Public inquiry

A public inquiry is the most formal and strictly governed of appeals. These are usually only appropriate for substantial developments and take the longest to complete, up to 55 weeks.

Building without planning permission is unlawful, as opposed to illegal. The difference simply is that an act is 'unlawful' if it is not expressly permitted and is 'illegal' if it is expressly forbidden. However, that does not mean that there cannot be severe ramifications for building without planning permission. 

If your project requires planning permission, but you proceed without it, this is technically a planning breach. You will have to submit a retrospective application. If the application is successful, no further action will be required. However, if it fails or is refused, the local authority can issue an enforcement notice. In essence, these can be complicated and expensive to resolve, potentially requiring you to dismantle the unauthorised works.

If you make a successful application for planning permission, you generally have three years to start the works, unless the grant stipulates otherwise. If you haven't started within 3 years, you will have to reapply for planning permission. If you are nearing the end of the permitted period to start another option is to implement that permission by starting minor building works which effectively means the 3 year time limit is removed.

To speed up the planning process, your local planning authority will grant planning permission subject to conditions. These conditions often need to be addressed before works commence on site. This power can be exercised if it appears desirable for the purposes of or in connection with the development—which is an expansive definition and could result in a wide-ranging array of requirements that must be satisfied before proceeding with the works.

In the majority of cases involving householder planning applications, conditions are typically only compliance conditions, such as building your extension per the plans or making sure your materials match those of the main house.

The conditions applied to full planning applications can sometimes be more complex and will involve you submitting further details to the council. These may include providing details of the materials you plan on using for an extension/new house, or maybe the local authority might want to see precisely what the landscaped areas will look like.

The planning process, and interpreting its complex policies, can be a challenging process to navigate efficiently. We would always recommend that you approach an architect that has both experience and expertise in dealing with local planning authorities. Adara separates itself from other architects as we have in-house planning consultants who have previously worked as planning officers for local authorities. Therefore, we have an excellent understanding of exactly what it takes to design extensions which not only look fantastic but also are granted planning permission.


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