Do I Need Planning Permission?

In an effort to provide you with as much information as possible to help you understand what it means to ‘Hire an Architect’, we have decided to begin writing this series of blog posts which answer your most frequently asked questions.

The first in our series will tackle:

Do I need Planning Permission?

Short answer: “Not always no, but you are limited in design options if you try to avoid it”

This is usually one of the very first questions we get asked here at Acres Architects by new and returning clients. Put simply, the answer is, “No, it’s not always necessary to submit a planning application when you complete building works”. However, we would always suggest you do not define “not going for planning” as a requirement for your project otherwise you seriously limit your design opportunity. You should always explore your options fully and not restrict yourself to projects that do not require planning permission.

Projects which do not require planning permission are often allowed under “Permitted Development” (PD), which takes on many forms for different project types.

For domestic projects, PD allows you to complete a certain size or type of extension to your property without needing to “go for planning”. You could change windows and doors, add roof lights and even add dormers windows to the rear, all without planning. This allows you to potentially speed up the process of completing your extension.

For instance if you live in a detached property, provided that you:

  • Do not impede or restrict ‘right to light of any neighbouring property’
  • The design and its materials match the existing aesthetic of the property
  • Do not extend across more than half the full width of the property
  • Do not extend further than 4m from the existing property footprint

…plus various others, you should be OK to construct your extension under PD by sending a small notice to the local authority.

However, we still recommend that you get a suitably qualified professional to draw up your plans. DO NOT GO STRAIGHT TO A BUILDER! We hear horror stories all the time about rogue traders working outside of regulations and without any insurance, leaving customers ripped off and left with half-finished projects. To avoid this, even if you decide to produce an extension that can be completed under PD, you should still seek assistance from an architect (look for the RIBA and ARB logos on their marketing material) to make sure you are getting exactly what you need and that what gets built is exactly what you expect.

An architect is there to listen to your needs and requirements, create a design that meets them, document that design on paper through architectural drawings or electronically through 3D BIM models and ensure that your desired outcome is achieved. You need more than someone who knows how to use a bit of CAD software…

This is why we believe that it is much better to ask “How do you want to live in the space?” and “Tell me about how you and your children use the existing space and what are your problems with it?”. A good architect can then define the design around those parameters with greater understanding of what you need, often better than you know yourself. Once we know the design requirements we can advise you whether you need to get planning permission or not to create the design that truly fulfils your requirements.

Here is quote from the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which as well as our experience in this area, heavily informed our decision to operate this way:

Never talk to a client about architecture. Talk to him about his children. That is simply good politics. He will not understand what you have to say about architecture most of the time. An architect of ability should be able to tell a client what he wants. Most of the time a client never knows what he wants.
~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Avoiding planning permission for the sake of it is never a good idea. From a cost point of view I have known several projects cost more under PD regulations rather than simply completing a typical extension and waiting the 8 weeks for planning to be permitted.

Jumping out of the residential side of things and into the commercial sector for a moment. Recently, it has been possible under PD for property developers to convert large derelict office buildings or old warehouse/factories into residential apartment blocks without needing planning permission to do so. This is due to a change in the National Planning Policy Framework. This measure was put in place by the government following the recession in an effort to get Britain building again.

So to sum up, no you do not always need planning permission, it depends on your project-specific requirements and you will need the advice of a suitable qualified professional architect to advise you. However, planning permission is not a negative thing that should be avoided, it is part of the process that should be embraced and carefully considered and included.

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