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Does it Really Matter Whether You Get Planning Permission for Your Extension?!

You probably know us well enough by now to know that our answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post is a huge, resounding FOR GOODNESS SAKE, DO CHECK IF IT’S NEEDED. Still, we’ve asked the question, so now we’re going to answer it… quite possibly with good deal more detail than absolutely necessary.

Hold onto your hats, folks.

What is planning permission and why do you need it?

Simply put, planning permission is the process of getting the go ahead from the local authority to build a new structure or make changes to an existing one. The application process involves various different stages and might feel something akin to jumping through a course of varyingly-sized hoops.

When you’re mid-hoop, you might be forgiven for assuming that planning permission only exists to make the process of building an extension more stressful. However, in reality, planning permission is there to ensure that your building project is:

  • Safe
  • Not unduly annoying for your neighbours
  • Not obstructing access to plumbing and draining facilities and the like
  • In keeping with the style of the existing building and the neighbourhood as a whole.

Are there any situations when you don’t need planning permission?

Not all building projects will have to be approved by a planning permission committee. There are such things as ‘permitted development rights’. These give you the right to embark on certain types of project with automatic planning permission approval.

Permitted development rights can vary from project to project and local authority to local authority, but, generally speaking, they will enable you do things like:

  • Convert your loft, basement or garage
  • Add a porch smaller than 3x3m
  • Demolish part of a property
  • Make internal alterations
  • Add solar panels or satellite dishes
  • Replace doors or windows
  • Add new skylight or dormer windows (so long as they face in certain directions)
  • Add a new driveway (subject to the porosity of the surface)
  • Build a small extension (subject to certain size and position restrictions)
  • Add a free-standing garden room

What are Article 4 directions?

Did what we just said about permitted development rights make you think that things might be simpler and more straight-forward than you thought?! Well… this next part might feel a bit like a spanner in the works (sorry). Before you know if you’re covered by permitted development rights and everything is hunky-dory, you’ll need to make sure your proposed build will not subject to any article 4 directions.

‘Article 4 directions’ is a fancy name for extra rules local planning authorities can put in place to restrict your permitted development rights. In other words, if an article 4 direction has been put in place in your local area, you might need to make a planning application for an extension that would be considered a permitted development elsewhere.

But why? We hear you ask (or, we might do, if this was an actual conversation instead of a blog post). Well, you see, the rules on permitted developments are pretty much the same up and down the country, and therefore don’t take into account things like heritage sites, conservation areas and other special considerations. A local authority might choose to put an article 4 direction in place if they feel that any special character of an area might otherwise be under threat.

Local building companies and other tradespeople will often have a fairly good understanding of any local restrictions, but the onus is on you to check whether any extra rules are in place. If you’ve recently bought your home and a local authority search was carried out during the conveyancing process, this will usually have shown whether there are any article 4 directions in. You can also find out about article 4 directions by contacting your local authority planning department.

Are there any other things to consider?

Even if your planned extension DOES fall under permitted development rights and you’re not subject to an article 4 direction… you may not yet be free and clear.

There are all sorts of other possible hurdles including:

  • Building regulation standards
  • Listed building consent
  • Scheduled monument consent
  • Works to protected trees
  • Environmental licenses
  • Restrictive covenants
  • The party wall act (not as fun as it sounds)

In other words, if you’re planning an extension, there are a lot of rules, restrictions and regulations (all the Rs!) to navigate, and we really recommend remarkable research (see what we did there?!).

As well as all that research, you may wish to submit your plans to your local planning authority even though you don’t strictly have to. The benefit of doing this is that they can check that your plans are indeed covered by permitted development rights and issue you with a lawful development certificate (LDC) to confirm this.

Not only is an LDC great for peace of mind purposes (call us boringly risk-averse if you like, but we think it’s nice to know you’re not going to get a nasty shock halfway through an expensive building project), it can also be very helpful later down the line if you decide to sell the property. An LDC will confirm to all potential buyers, conveyancing teams and mortgage providers that all rules were followed and your extension is a legal one. 

What happens if you’ve done something naughty and don’t know how to admit to it?

Of course, there are times when mistakes are made, situations are miscommunicated and the rules aren’t, ahem, followed exactly. What might happen if, hypothetically, you were to find yourself living in a house with a less-than-legal and absolutely-not-permitted extension?

The worst-case scenario here is that the illegal extension could be reported to your local planning authority and that they might order you to demolish it. You could also find yourself unable to sell a property if you weren’t able to prove whether any building work was legally done, as these are exactly the sorts of things conveyancing solicitors investigate during the process.

Luckily, it is possible to apply for retrospective planning permission, which is something that would be well worth considering if you were to find yourself in this sort of pickle. There’s also the option of taking out an indemnity policy to insure against any unhappy consequences, which might be necessary if you’re selling a house without planning permission paperwork.

If you’ve got a question about planning permission related to a property you’re thinking of buying or selling, we’ll be happy to have a chat about it. (Though please note that we’d advise against asking us practical questions about rear elevations or non-porous driveways as the closest we get to construction is rearranging towers of legal paperwork.)

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