Planning permission: what you need for loft conversions, extensions, conservatories and more

If you’re thinking about extending or renovating your home, make sure you get the proper authorisation. This guide explains when you need planning permission, building regulations approval and party wall agreements and when your permitted development rights will cover your project.

Risky renovations

Over half of UK homeowners (57%) have had extensive work done to their property, but 15% can’t say for sure if they got the correct permission to do the work, according to new research from Co-op Insurance.

It found almost a fifth (19%) said they didn’t know they might need permission for improvements like loft conversions, garages and extensions, while 14% said it didn’t cross their minds and 9% ignored it because they thought it would be pricey.

This trend of ‘risky renovations’ looks set to continue as 43% of homeowners surveyed said they were planning future building work, but 18% admitted they weren’t intending to get permission for their projects.

With more and more homeowners staying put and investing in improving their properties rather than moving out it’s important to make sure you get the right permissions and abide by certain regulations for the work you do – or you could risk having to tear down what you’ve built or have problems selling your home.

Here’s a guide about what you need to know about permitted development rights, planning permission, building regulations and party wall agreements you need when renovating your home.

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Permitted development rights

There are certain types of work you can do to your home without having to get planning permission which are called ‘permitted development rights’.

In England permitted development rights are set out in the Town and Country Planning Order (General Permitted Development) 2015.

In Northern Ireland, a similar system operates with the rules set out in Planning (General permitted Development) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015.

There’s a similar regime in Scotland which can be accessed via the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992.

The type of permitted developments allowed in Wales is set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order 1995.

Generally permitted development rights can apply to:

  • Internal remodeling;
  • Moving windows and doors;
  • Converting attached buildings like garages;
  • Single storey extensions;
  • Loft conversions;
  • Conservatories;
  • Rooflights;
  • Sheds and outbuildings;
  • Porches;
  • Gates, walls and fences;
  • Garden decking;
  • Swimming pools;
  • Solar panels;
  • Change of use (when in the same class);
  • Basements.

However, permitted development rights will be subject to limits on height, size and location.

They typically apply to houses but not necessarily flats or other buildings that may be listed or in a conservation area. Some local authorities may have also withdrawn some permitted development rights using ‘Article 4’ powers.

If you’re unsure the best thing to do is contact your local authority to check if certain types of work will need planning permission or if they fall under your permitted development rights.

You can get official recognition of your project not needing planning permission by applying for a ‘certificate of lawful development’ from your local authority.

Bear in mind that even if you don’t need planning permission you may need other permissions or consents under things like Building Regulations and the Party Wall Act.

Planning permission

Planning permission (Image: Shutterstock)

Planning permission is something you need when you are building a new home or splitting it into two.

It may also be required when you want to make a major change to your home beyond the scope of permitted development rights, or change the material use of your land or building.

So, for example if you wanted to build a large extension or make improvements to a listed building.

To find out if your project needs planning permission you should contact your local authority. You can also take a look at the Government’s guidance in: When is permission required?

How to apply and costs

Those in England and Wales can apply for planning permission through the Planning Portal online. The cost will vary depending on the nature of your project but the website can help you estimate with its fee calculator.

If you live in Scotland you can apply for planning permission online using ePlanning Scotland.

You can use the ‘which form’ tool and find out how much it will all cost using the fee calculator. There is also information on how to submit a form by post.

If you’re in Northern Ireland you can apply for planning permission using the Planning NI Portal.

It can take eight to 13 weeks for a decision to be made on your application.

If your project benefits the local community and the community is in support you may be able to skip the normal planning permission process.

Neighbourhood planning and Community Right to Build gives the community the power to grant planning permission under certain circumstances.

What can impact getting planning permission?

Your neighbours, nature and wildlife and the design of your project can impact whether you get the planning permission you need for your project.

If your application is refused you can try adjusting your plans to come to an agreement with the local planning authority.

If you can’t come to an agreement you can appeal against the refusal or other things like conditions on the plans, but this can take several months.

What happens if I do the work with planning permission?

If you don’t get planning permission before you do the work you may be able to make a retrospective application.

However, if the lack of planning permission is because of a rejected development you may be issued with an enforcement notice which means the work is altered or demolished. This can be appealed.

Building Regulations

Building Regulations set out the national minimum standards for the design, construction and changes to buildings.

These rules apply to building work on new developments as well as extensions or alterations to your home.

Building Regulations contain a list of requirements for health, safety, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency, sustainability and to prevent misuse, abuse or contamination of water supplies.

The regulations cover various aspects of construction including foundations, damp proofing, insulation, ventilation, heating and fire escapes as well as ensuring there are the right facilities for disabled people.

The main alterations where you might will need Building Regulations approval include:

  • Replacing fuse boxes and connected electrics;
  • Installing a bathroom that involves plumbing;
  • Changing electrics near a bath or shower;
  • Installing a fixed air-conditioning system;
  • Replacing windows and doors;
  • Replacing roof coverings on pitched and flat roofs;
  • Installing or replacing a heating system;
  • Adding extra radiators to a heating system.

Building Regulations approval are different to Planning Permission but you might need both for your project.

How do I get Building Regulations approval?

You don’t need to get approval yourself if you use someone that is registered with a Competent Person Sscheme, which means they work to required standards anyway.

A tradesperson who is registered can self-certify that their work meets current building standards and if needed tell your local authority about the work on your behalf.

They’ll also produce a certificate which can be used as evidence as compliance, which will show up on searches a buyer’s solicitors will make when you come to sell your home.

Competent Person Schemes also have insurance-backed warranties and complaints procedures if there’s a problem with the work.

You can search the Competent Persons Register to find a tradesperson, or check that they belong to a scheme.

If you don’t use a registered tradesperson you will need to contact to a ‘building control body’ (BCB) to check the Building Regulations or apply for approval for work already done.

You can do this through your local authority (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or apply through a private approved instructor (England and Wales). The costs will vary depending on your project.

There are different rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you are unsure about the work you are going to undertake require approval you should check with a building control body.

What happens if Building Regulations aren’t followed?

If you don’t get the proper approval your local authority you may have to pay a fine and have to redo the work.

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Party Wall agreements

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is designed to preempt conflict that could come up when one homeowner undertakes building work next to someone else’s property or land.

It applies to properties in England and Wales and means you need to inform your neighbours about building work near or on your shared property boundary.

A wall is considered a ‘party wall’ if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two or more different owners.

Party Walls include walls that form part of buildings, walls that aren’t part of a building (like a brick garden wall) and those that are on one owner’s land but used by both owners to separate their buildings.

The act also covers ‘party structures’, which could be a floor or another structure that separates buildings with different owners in developments like flats.

You must tell your neighbour if you want to:

  • Build on or at the boundary of your two properties;
  • Work on an existing party wall or party structure;
  • Dig below and near to the foundation level of their property.

So, work like removing a chimney breast, creating a basement by digging below the foundation of a neighbour’s property or building a new wall on or at the boundary of two properties will mean you need to make contact with those that will be impacted and give notice.

The Party Wall Act does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

How to give notice

You should make sure you give notice of intended works in writing and do it at least two months before the start date of work on the party wall.

There are template letters that you can use to give notice here.

The adjoining owner can give consent in writing or may refuse to agree to the works proposed. If they object there is a resolution procedure you can use.

No response after 14 days can also count as a ‘dispute’.

The resolution procedure for disputes involves appointing one or more surveyors to step in and make a decision on a ‘party wall award’ which is a legal document which says what work should happen, how and when it will be carried out plus the costs and who has to foot the bill.

Any agreement you come to should be in writing.

What happens if you don’t give notice

If you fail to get an agreement in place and works start, an adjoining owner can take steps to stop the work through a court injunction or other legal redress.

For guidance on this topic read: Party Wall etc. Act 1996: explanatory booklet.

Other things to consider

Your project may require additional permission in order to go ahead on top of planning permission, getting the appropriate building regulations and ensuring party wall agreements are in place.

These include badger licences, environmental permits and flood defence consents. So make sure you’ve covered all the bases before starting.

You should also think about your insurance.

One in five (20%) of homeowners that had work done to their property failed to let their insurers know, according to the Co-operative Insurance survey.

Caroline Hunter, Head of Home Insurance for Co-op Insurance commented: “It’s really important that homeowners get the correct permissions and let their insurers know when extensive building work such as conservatories, extensions and loft conversions are taking place.

That way, if anything was to go wrong with the property, either whilst the building work is ongoing or once it’s completed, it will be covered by their insurer.”

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