How to get planning permission

Updated on 30 August 2011 | 11 Comments

How hard is it to get planning permission? What potential pitfalls can you try to avoid? Donna Ferguson investigates.

Getting planning permission to extend or develop your home is one of the best ways to add value to a property in an uncertain market. But it can also be a minefield of regulations and red tape.

I know, because I recently went through the (torturous) process myself. Ultimately, I was successful, but there were a number of hurdles I had to jump along the way. Here’s what my experience taught me:

1) Do your research

Before you decide what to do to your property, look around the neighbourhood. Have any of your neighbours done anything similar? If there is a precedent for your development, it is likely to be easier for you to get permission. This is because the same piece of planning policy that allowed your neighbour to build his extension should also ensure your development meets with approval.

Unless of course the policy has changed... which leads me neatly on to my next point.

2) Know your permitted development rights

While you will always need planning permission to build a new dwelling, when it comes to building an extension - depending on the type of property you live in - you may have what is known as ‘permitted development rights’. These rights allow you build a small one- or even two-storey extension, without needing to apply for planning permission, as long as you stick to certain rules.

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However, if you live in a flat, maisonette, listed building or Conservation Area, you do not have these rights. In other words, if you share your building with another property and/or your property development is somehow deemed a matter of public interest, then the local council and your neighbours have the right to be involved in the decision.

The more permitted development rights you have, the less red tape you have to deal with – and vice versa.

In my case, my flat is in a Conservation Area, so I not only had to get approval from the planning officer, I also had to worry about the conservation officer too, and local residents on the conservation area advisory committee. Plus, as my plans created new access to the flat from the road, the transport officer had to be consulted as well.

Not to mention, of course, all our neighbours... And what fun that was.

 3) Talk to your neighbours early on in the process

The earlier you talk to your neighbours about what you want to do, the better. The planners will consult them anyway, but if you inform them yourself, hopefully they will respond in a more friendly manner.

Of course, their response may still not be positive. NIMBY-ism is rife in Britain, plus some people don’t like change, so try not to take it personally if they give you negative feedback. In fact, it’s well worth going back to your architect with their feedback to see if your plans could be adapted to deal with their objections and what this would mean.

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But don’t rush to take it onboard. Always remember that it is the planners who have the final say. They will look at any formal objections they receive from your neighbours and decide whether, under planning policy, it is deemed to be a valid objection. Even if the planning officer sympathises with any objections made by your neighbours, you should be given the opportunity partway through the planning process to make amendments to your plan, based on this feedback, before a final decision is reached.

4) Know your planning policy

Hopefully, of course, it will never come to that, because a good local architect will know local planning policy inside-out, and should create a design that will meet with the approval of the planners, in the first place. Furthermore, you can consult your local planning officers about your plans, for free, beforehand. I found this process invaluable, and it allowed me to be relatively confident that, even if my neighbours objected, the planners would not share their concerns.

You can also get some hints from the planners about what might be controversial about your plan. This will help you when, as part of your application, you come to write your ‘design and access statement’, outlining why your development should be given planning permission. Always present your plan in the best possible light and stress the different ways that it aligns with local planning policy.

For example, my local council has a stated aim to encourage people to build ‘green roofs’ but when I walked around the neighbourhood, I couldn’t see a single one. I included one in my extension and was sure to quote the relevant policy in my statement. Suddenly, my plan stood out for all the right reasons.

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Look for easy wins like this, which show your design will make a positive contribution to the area and fulfil the aims of the council’s local development framework. Box: ticked!

5) Make it easy for the planning officer to give approval

Another reason why it’s good to demonstrate how your plans fit in with planning policy is that, at the end of the process, the planning officer has to write a report, detailing why he or she gave your plans approval by quoting relevant planning policy. The easier it is for the officer to write this report, the easier it will be for him or her to approve your plans.

Finally my top tip – which I think really swung things in my favour – is to ask a professional 3D visualiser to create a photo mock-up of your plans (my cousin is Noam Leshem, so I was pretty lucky). It only costs a few hundred pounds, and will enable the planners to visualise your plans much more easily than a drawing ever could. I’d say it’s a particularly worthwhile if the appearance of the development is of paramount concern, for example, if it is in a Conservation Area or the neighbours are objecting on subjective, aesthetic grounds. Judging by the officer’s report, and a specific reference he made to the mock-up, it made a huge difference to my proposal.

Got any tips of your own? Please share them using the comments box below!

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