Every plot and every build varies, so there’s no one guaranteed route to getting planning permission. But knowing the ropes goes a long way to easing the process, both practically and financially.
Plenty of advance preparation before submitting plans will ensure that you’re aware of any restrictions locally or on your plot, and improve your chances of success.
Your local authority planning office will expect to your design to respond to the style and scale of neighbouring buildings and the materials they’re constructed from – even if you’re planning a contemporary home. Using local materials can help, but don’t shy away from new methods and products if you can support your case for using them.
Once you’ve established the basics of what you want to build, find out whether you can have a preliminary meeting with the planning office (some councils charge for this service, but even then it’s generally well worthwhile).
Take along a sketch and details of the build and ask whether the officer can foresee potential problems. If you’re able to spot potential issues now, you can save on the time and expense of sorting them out later.
Types of planning permission
Be wary of buying a site without permission – there may well be a reason the owner hasn’t sought permission, and there’s nothing worse than buying a plot you can’t build on.
Outline planning permission (OPP) informs you that building on a plot is permissible in principle. Plots with OPP sell for much more than those without any permission, so it’s very unusual to find a good slice of land without some kind of consent already arranged.
The next step is to obtain detailed planning permission (DPP), the application for which must be submitted within three years of the OPP. This gives you permission for a specific house and denotes the exact size, design, layout, external materials and location of the property on the plot.
Some plots come with DPP already in place, but it’s still possible to submit plans for an alternative design.
As well as the design basics, this meeting will give you the opportunity to find out whether your local authority requires financial contributions (under the Community Infrastructure Levy, for example).
Some councils make no charge for one-off new homes, while others might charge up to £20,000 or more, depending on the size and location of the house. This can have obvious repercussions for your build budget.
As well as finding out just what kind of house the planners might like to see, it’s also important to ascertain what you definitely can’t do on a plot. Here are some of the key considerations:
Records: You need to check whether the council has any records about the plot that may impact on your project – perhaps there have been rejected planning applications in the past.
Protected areas: If you’re in a conservation area, an area of outstanding natural beauty, green belt or if there’s a listed building nearby there may be constraints – not just on what you build now, but on any future developments within the plot.
Permitted development: ‘PD’ rights allow for some extensions or outbuildings to be built without planning permission, but there are restrictions within conservation areas and AONBs and for listed buildings. In some cases planning permission might include a condition removing future permitted development rights, especially with barns
Covenants: Even if a plot has planning permission, a restrictive covenant can prevent building. Ensure your solicitor checks the title deeds for restrictive covenants; sometimes the language isn’t easy for a lay-person to understand fully.
Access: A plot without access has very little value, so ensure that you have adequate rights of access, especially if this is over a private road, shared drive or if there’s a wide verge between plot and public highway. Who will maintain a private right of way, and what could this cost you? Check also whether there are rights of way across your land.
You’ll need to submit your planning application alongside a number of supporting documents and survey reports. Depending on the nature of your site, these could cover some or all the following areas:
Design and access: A design and access statement is always required and is a short report in support of your application. It is your chance to describe how you will achieve a good design and meet the legislative requirements.
Tree preservation order: Trees on site require a tree survey to discover the extent of the roots, as you cannot build too close to them. Some trees are protected by a tree preservation order (TPO) or come under conservation area protection – so check before you fell!
Flora and fauna: Many more animal and plant species are protected than you might think. Sometimes the local planning office will have taken this into account when granting OPP, but follow-up surveys are often required, and dealing with protected species can cause both expense and delays.
Archaeological dig: Sensitive areas that might require an archaeological dig are often identified in Local Plans. If your plot is highlighted this may involve extra cost and delays.
Flood assessment: The quickest check for the possibility of flooding is on the Environment Agency’s website www.environment-agency.gov.uk, which has maps showing flood risk. If your plot is at risk this can not only affect planning permission but it may impact on the insurance for the property, as well as the build system
Eco plan: The council will be keen to hear how you intend to reduce the impact of your new home on the environment. This will include any recycling and waste plans, carbon-saving measures or sources of renewable energy/water harvesting that you intend to use
Highways and sightlines: Make sure you plot has access to the public highway. The highways authority will scrutinise your planning application and can recommend refusal if access is not ‘adequate’. They will look at sightlines to check, for example, whether your driveway will be safe for pulling out onto the highway
Foul and surface water: Drainage must also be considered at the planning stage. Most problems are surmountable, but can have an effect on your budget. If foul drainage is to a public sewer, ensure you can connect to it without crossing someone else’s land. A soakaway for surface water may not work effectively on heavy clay soil.
Ground and contamination: Soil contamination – due to former industrial use or tipping, for example – should be picked up at the planning stage and further investigation will almost definitely be needed. Surveys for contamination will delay your build.
So, with all the basics in place, what’s the best way to approach the application proper?
Be positive: Do your best to sell your vision for the site. As well as properly prepared location, floorplans and elevations, consider artists’ impressions, photo-montages or a model of the house. Mapping out landscaping, with planting plans and intentions to encourage native species is also a good idea.
Submitting: The application can be submitted online or on paper and must be accompanied by the application fee (calculated for you if you apply online). The council will register the application, then a consultation period of three weeks allows neighbours, the parish council, highways authority and environment agency to comment on the plans. Your planning officer will then visit the site.
Decision: Once the submission is in, keep in touch with the planning officer to ask how it’s progressing. This is a handy way of ironing out any problems as they come up. At this early stage, it’s still possible to withdraw your application and re-submit with corrections. You will hear when the planning office has made a decision on your case.
Refusal and appeal: If your application is refused, a discussion with your planning officer could be enough to work out a compromise and allow you to make a revised application without incurring another fee. If you’re still unsuccessful, the next stage is an appeal – which must be made within six months of refusal.
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