Whenever you make a structural improvement to your home, whether it’s large or small, check first with your local authority. You may need to apply for planning permission and/or comply with building regulations. An architect or consultant working on your behalf should do this automatically.
The rules and regulations can be complicated, but they have the force of law. They exist to provide a pleasant and safe environment for everyone.
It’s worth being on good terms with the staff of planning and building control offices, who are there to help.
The purpose of the Town and Country Planning Acts is to protect the character and amenity of an area. In England and Wales, this responsibility lies mainly with local authorities. Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar regulations.
In Scotland, these are enforced by the councils. In Northern Ireland, applications should be made to the Planning Service Office of the Department of the Environment. The aim of the regulations is to look after the public interest, not the interest of one individual over another.
You do have the right to make some alterations to your property, but the onus is always on you to check whether planning permission is needed.
Operate on the principle that you should take nothing for granted, as interpretations of regulations may vary from area to area. You may discover, for instance, that alterations made by a previous owner mean your home has reached its maximum allowable size.
In a Conservation Area, even repainting the exterior of your house may be controlled. If you don’t find out where you stand, you can be forced to undo any unauthorized work and restore the building to the way it was before you started.
Six Steps in Applying For Planning Permission
- Write to your local planning department to explain what you are hoping to do. Ask if they foresee any difficulties and, if so, what modifications might help get your plans through.
- If planning permission is necessary, ask for the appropriate application form (some local authorities have them on their Web site, for downloading) and check the following: How many copies of the form do you need to return? What plans do you need to submit? How long will it be before you are given a decision?
- Check what fee is payable, and what it covers. If the application is turned down, you can usually modify your plans and reapply free of charge within a set time. Equally, if you want to make minor adjustments once work is underway, you may not have to pay a further fee, but you will need to seek permission.
- Send your completed application forms, necessary plans, and fee to the planning department. Keep copies.
- The council should acknowledge your application within a few days. It will also notify your neighbours, put up a notice near the site, or advertise the application in the local paper. Members of the public can study your application at the council offices.
- If permission is refused, you are entitled to know why. Planning staff may be prepared to advise you about changes that might make your scheme acceptable. If permission is granted, work must usually begin within a certain time.