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The planning permission maze – interview with Phil Spencer

It can seem like a maze of red tape, so much so that it can be hard to know where to start. We were so bamboozled that we decided to ask our property expert Phil Spencer a thing or two about the perplexing subject of planning permission.

How does planning permission work?

Undertaking major changes to your home usually requires planning permission, but these rules are constantly evolving and in some cases you can complete significant home improvements without the need for consent. It’s important to bear in mind that consent isn’t always granted and it takes about eight weeks to get an answer. What types of home improvements do and don’t get approved depends on the local planning authority — each authority with have different restrictions on development in the area.

Planning permission doesn’t just apply to extensions. For example, you need to apply for permission to erect a wall or fence, whereas solar panels are generally considered a ‘permitted development’ and therefore does not requiring consent. If you want to undertake a project that will alter the exterior of your property it’s generally worth checking if planning permission is required, this is especially important if you live in a conservation area or have a listed property.

Use the Planning Portal’s interactive house to find out the specific restrictions for different home improvement projects: it covers everything from hedges and trees to windows, doors and solar panels. Even those projects that don’t require planning permission have to fall within restrictions, so it’s worth looking into.

terraced house extension

Image source: Pinterest

What will and won’t get approved?

Whether you’re looking for a property to buy, with the view to extend it, or you want to improve your current home to adapt to a growing family rather than move, look at the other houses on your street. If your neighbours have installed dormer windows or have converted garages into additional living space, there is a good chance that you will be granted permission to undertake a similar project. My tip is to look not just at the front of the properties but the back too, where you’ll be able to spot if any basement conversions or kitchen extensions have occurred.

What will and won’t get approved really depends on the local planning authority; it may be easier to get planning permission in some places than others. If an area has been designated for development then plans are more likely to be approved. It isn’t just the type of renovation either, it depends how the person considering your application interprets the Local Development Framework. For example if your local planning department are fond of traditional building methods and styles, they are less likely to approve a modern development and vice versa.

kitchen extension

Image source: Arent & Pyke

What can I do without planning permission?

Earlier this year the rules were relaxed with regards to extensions to stimulate building work, making it a lot easier to undertake home improvements to add additional living space. I’m making the most of the relaxation of these rules extending a property I own in Brixton, south London — in theory with the current rules I could extend the original house by up to six meters!

In my opinion, one of the most cost effective and beneficial home improvements is the single-storey extension, usually to the rear of the property to increase the size of the kitchen area — I extended the kitchen in both my current and previous family home. Single-storey extensions are one of the projects that have become much easier to undertake since the new rules have come into place, providing it falls within certain limitations. The main restrictions are that the new structure covers no more than half of the area around the original house and that no part of the structure is higher than the highest part of the roof of the original building (the maximum height of a single-storey extension is four meters). You can find a full list of restrictions on the Planning Portal.

conservatory green and red

Image source: Pinterest

Conservatories fall under the same category as single storey extensions and provided they adhere to certain conditions, they do not require planning permission. Basements on the other hand often require planning permission, but these plans are usually approved as they don’t tend to alter the exterior of the property.

Even if your improvement project doesn’t require planning permission, you should make your neighbours are aware of any work in advance. This is especially important if your property is a terrace and the work you want to do affects a ‘party wall’ (the shared wall connecting your house with your neighbours’ house). If a party wall is involved you will need to get a ‘party wall award’… this is a simple exercise but needs to be carried out by a ‘party wall surveyor’. Basically, it provides comfort to your neighbour that if the work on your side of the wall causes any damage or harm to their side – you will put it right.

Interestingly on this topic, today I’m popping round to my neighbours’ in Brixton to show them the extension plans and try to gain their support. Also, when we did our kitchen extension in my current home we effected the party wall, small cracks appeared on our neighbours’ side and — under the party wall award — we repainted their kitchen!

Even if a party wall isn’t affected you should make your neigbours aware in advance in case you need to gain emergency access to your neighbours’ properties for plumbing and electrical work.




Phil Spencer

Phil Spencer doesn’t need much of an introduction, he’s TV’s most well-known property presenter, having co-presented Location, Location, Location and Relocation, Relocation for over 10 years. Phil'ls blog posts focus on adding value and advice/ tips for when you're buying or selling your house.

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