buying or selling a house

How Planning Law Works

Planning in England and Wales is governed by various Planning Acts and other legal rules. The rules can be quite complex and vary according to locality. Planning restrictions are more stringent in conservation areas, for instance, and for listed buildings.

Most new building requires planning permission before work can start and this permission is obtained by applying to the local planning authority, which is usually the planning committee of the local council. Permission may also be required for a wide range of other projects, such as house extensions, paving over front gardens or a change of use of premises, for instance from domestic to business use.

Examples of projects requiring planning permission include:

  • excavation to create a new basement or light well;
  • change of use, for example from a dwelling house to business use;
  • any house extensions that go beyond the many stated limitations;
  • loft extensions beyond specified limits;
  • paving over a front garden if the surface is non-permeable and the area covered exceeds 5 square metres;
  • solar panel installations – rules vary according to area and other factors;
  • satellite dish and antennae installations – rules vary according to building size and other factors;
  • advertising displays bigger than 0.3 square metres (or any size if illuminated); and
  • wind turbines – this is an area where the rules are evolving.

Other building works may not require planning permission providing various set limits are not exceeded and other conditions are met. For instance, changing the use of a garage to living accommodation does not normally require planning permission when the building is not enlarged, but there is a requirement to meet building regulations, as with any building work. Decking is another example of work that does not usually require planning permission, provided the height is limited to no more than 30 centimetres above ground level and the area covered by the decking and all outbuildings together does not exceed 50 per cent of the total garden space.

Working from home does not require planning permission as long as there is no impact on the character of the dwelling. However, if traffic to your home will increase, if neighbours are likely to be disturbed or if your home becomes mainly a business premises, then planning permission will be required.

It is usually best to seek specific advice and information before commencing any work. In many cases, if the work is to be carried out by a building firm, they will be able to tell you if planning permission is required. It is ultimately the homeowner, however, who is responsible for meeting local planning requirements, and penalties for not complying with the rules can include an order to demolish the work or restore the building to its pre-development state. If you are in any doubt, it is best to seek qualified professional advice.

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