A Change Is As Good As A Rest: Uprooting, Relocating Or Staying Put Planning Permission And How To Get It
In an economic climate where people simply cannot move home, whether due to negative equity, a scarcity of buyers or an inability to qualify for an increased mortgage, many home-owners are resorting to realising the full potential of their existing homes. Indeed councils throughout the country are being overwhelmed by a flood of planning applications. However, many people are having to wait months before getting council consent, even for straightforward proposals such as extensions, and the backlog is getting worse.
How long you have to wait for planning department approval depends on where you live, and not necessarily on what you intend to do. The government stipulates that councils should have addressed applications within an eight-week period but there is no penalty for their failure to meet this target. Councils in London and the South-East are the busiest, and thus the tardiest, because they contain the areas of highest growth with the most activity. Councils will no doubt counter that it isn’t their fault and that they’re understaffed. They will also argue that delays are inevitable because of the requirement to consult with the public, and that time is taken up when dealing with objections and appeals. This I’m sure is true, but it is of little comfort if you are desperate to get a move on and undertake works. If you’ve decided to build an extension to create another room which will then add to your rent yield, just think of the money that will be wasted by having your application held up in planning.
I have an old friend who has spent over twenty years as a planning officer, first with Lambeth and now with Edinburgh Council. He told me recently that an awful lot of time is wasted through applicants’ lack of preparation. He often has to sift through applications that should never have been made (for works that simply don’t require approval) and others that haven’t a chance of being passed. If he was making an application, his first rule would be to “check if the application is at all necessary and don’t submit forms until your pretty sure it will be accepted”. In short, the first step is quite simply to do your homework.
You can start by checking whether you are in a conservation area or whether your building is listed, and also what the council’s policy is regarding the type of project you have in mind. Many householders don’t realise that they have ‘permitted development ’ rights, which allows them to make certain changes without having to obtain planning permission. An unnecessary application is a great waste of time for both yourself and the officer reading it. A wise move would be to contact the council in advance and ask to speak to a planning officer. They are usually happy to give advice and discuss proposed applications which can save you valuable time by alerting you to possible problems you may encounter.
Once you’ve had an initial meeting with an officer and then feel confident, you can proceed – a call on your neighbours could pay dividends. Often, the first neighbours know about a proposed change is when they receive a letter from the council asking them whether they have any objections. Hearing news of a proposed change for the first time in this manner can annoy people and could result in someone making an objection on the grounds of lack of courtesy rather than anything to do with the proposal itself. It ’s far better to let them know of your intentions by calling round and consulting them in the first instance. Whilst this may be no guarantee of winning their support, it will at least put you in a good light and win you some points for showing interest and concern. Consequently their reactions are more likely to be in your favour.
If your neighbours have no objections to your plans then try and get them to write a letter in support of your application. Applications that are not disputed by local residents are dealt with by council officers and are approved quicker. Contentious applications usually have to go before a planning committee where you run the risk of facing a councillor with a political point to make or simply someone with an axe to grind. Letters of support from neighbours can help sway marginal decisions in your favour.
When making your application it ’s wise to write a letter clearly explaining your proposal. My friend tells me that he and his colleagues often have problems trying to work out what the application is actually about. Many homeowners believe that planning staff have all the background on every property, which is simply not the case. Sometimes it ’s good practice to make an application for an “outline permission”. This will give you an indication of what the council’s opinion is of the principle. It can also save you money, because if the council tells you that there is almost no chance of the application being passed, even in principle, you have at least saved money by avoiding fees for architects, surveyors or planning consultants.
The DIY Approach
If the project is fairly straightforward then why not submit your own drawings with the application? Apparently, more and more people are doing this now and planning departments have no objection. Their main concern when reading an application is clarity, so remember to include dimensions, the types of materials you’ll be using and be certain to mention any necessity to alter access to highways etc. Drawings that show your proposal in relation to your neighbours’ properties are also advised because the planning department needs to know how adjoining buildings are to be affected. Photographs showing the property as it is in its present state will also back up your case. If relevant, include a supporting statement citing other examples of similar work carried out in your area and, if possible, photographs of those completed developments.
A bit of personality can also go a long way to getting your application passed. Many councils now encourage people to come and argue their case personally in front of the planning committee, especially if there are any objections from neighbours. The committee feels they can weed out the just complaints from those who are simply being spiteful. Objections are quite common when there has been some bad history between neighbours. It ’s therefore far easier for the committee to ascertain when there is a genuine concern rather than sheer bloody mindedness being exercised. It also allows you to explain your point of view and gives you the chance to say how plans will benefit the overall look of the nearby area. Obviously, do not to get involved in a slagging match with a troublesome neighbour in front of the committee!
Some councils produce preferred designs for extensions, porches and other alterations, and if what you propose is unusual, you might find difficulty getting the right result. Under these circumstances it might now pay to employ a professional. You could use an architect, a surveyor or a planning consultant to do the drawings and then steer the application through. Fees vary, but in most cases are negotiable and can be as low as £200 rising to over a £1,000 plus. If you use the same person or company to project-manage the building work then expect them to ask for between 10 or 20 per cent of the project ’s cost.
The obvious disadvantage of using professionals is the expense, but unlike many estate agents they are usually trained and qualified and will actually do something for you. They know the ropes, have technical expertise and, importantly, often have some sort of working relationship with the planning officer. They will also be better equipped to deal with problems that arise and will make the right noises if the council is being unreasonable or slow in its deliberations. As I stated before, if what you propose is slightly unusual then I believe that a consultant would have more chance of seeing the application through. If you decide to use a professional then I’d seek one out who knows the area and is familiar with your local council. If you’re having difficulty locating one, then you should seek out a recommendation. Ask around and see if you can find anyone locally who’s been successful and used the services of a consultant.
If you employ a consultant then the planning application procedure itself will be of little interest to you. But if you decide to do things yourself, you can expect an acknowledgement of your written application within a few days. The details of the application will be placed on the planning register at the town hall where it can be inspected by the public. The council has no obligation to inform neighbours, but they usually do, and this is done by post. With any luck you would have built a relationship with the planning officer and he or she would have given you the right advice to help your plans pass smoothly
through. However, if the application is refused, the council must formally state the reasons why. You have the right to lodge a new application with suitable revisions, but the council will almost certainly refuse if the new application is too similar to the previous one and has not taken into consideration their recommendations. In fact, the council has the right to refuse to accept your application for up to a two-year period if they feel the changes have not gone far enough.
As mentioned earlier, councils are not penalised for failing to process your application within eight weeks, but it does you no harm to remind them that you’ve been waiting longer than the deadline stipulated by government. People kept waiting for an eternity have the option of appealing to the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). This can speed matters up, but the minute you appeal the application is suddenly out of the council’s hands and everything is left to the inspector appointed by Defra, who you’ll probably have no working relationship with. If Defra has a backlog of work, then it is unlikely that the application heard any quicker.
No Need To Bother Anyone
Many improvements do not require planning permission and permitted development rights can apply to fairly large scale alterations.
There is no need for planning when carrying out a loft conversion, for instance, or extensions to detached or semi-detached houses, providing the size is under 70 cubic metres or under 15 per cent of the original size of the house. For a terraced house the size is reduced to 50 cubic metres or 10 per cent of the house size. The extension must not be higher than the highest part of the roof of the original house, or more than 4 metres high. This same ruling applies to garages, as long as they are within five metres of the house.
No permission is necessary for sheds and greenhouses, which are allowed to cover up to half the garden if they are less than three metres high when flat roofed and four metres high if they are ridged roofed.
Porches are permitted as long as they don’t cover more than three square metres of floor area or go higher than three metres. This rule applies as long as the house is at least two metres from the road. Gates, walls and fences are permitted up to a metre high when adjoining a road and up to two metres anywhere else. Stone or artificial cladding only needs permission if the house is in a conservation area (however, it looks bloody awful and should be banned). Using a flat roof of a rear addition as a roof terrace is permitted providing the combined height of the building and railings does not exceed four metres.
You will need permission, though, if you are creating a self-contained flat in your home or dividing up space to create an office or home-business environment. In conservation areas, “Article 4” directions apply and this relates to features such as doors and windows. You would, for example, need permission for the installation of double- glazed windows if the property had a conservation order. We do hear of some people who just build and never apply for permission at all. This is a risky strategy which we wouldn’t advise. Though I’m sure many are successful and their work is still standing, the consequences if the council decide to take action can be dire. The council can order the demolition of the structure and can carry out the procedure themselves if you don’t dismantle it on demand. The time and expense wasted would, of course, be considerable. Always apply for permission first.