An Overview of Planning Permission

Almost without exception, building a new house from scratch or significantly changing an existing building as part of a renovation project will require planning permission from the local authorities before work can begin.

Planning permission is strictly controlled and enforced to ensure that inappropriate developments don’t go ahead, whether that’s an unacceptable change of use or a new build design which is completely out of place with nearby properties or the character of the surrounding area.

Before you even make an offer on a plot of land or building you want to renovate, you should make sure that planning permission can be obtained if it hasn’t already been granted – failure to do so could put an end to the self-build dream very quickly, because without it you can’t start work. Applying for planning permission is something which will need to be done early on in the self-build process, as soon as you and your designers have finalised your plans for the building and are able to submit all the relevant information to the planning department.

Before you even begin looking for land, you should familiarise yourself with the different types of planning permissions which might affect your self-build, renovation or conversion project.

Outline Planning Permission (OPP)

Outline Planning Permission (OPP) is the most common and basic type of planning permission, and gives the landowner conditional consent to construct a dwelling without detailed designs having yet been submitted. It’s important to remember that OPP only agrees to building work in principal and is not a green light to start laying the foundations.

Many plots of land will come with OPP already in place, but you should always examine the approval documents to ensure that they haven’t expired and to give yourself an idea of the sort of property you might be allowed to build. For plots which don’t come with permission in place, OPP can be very easily obtained, often just by submitting a site plan outlining your plot.

If the plot you are buying already has OPP, always read the small print before you part with any money. OPP applications are usually granted for a fixed time period of around three to five years, and at some point before the end of that term you will need to apply for an Approval of Reserved Matters in order to keep the permission valid. If the application hasn’t been made before you take ownership then permissions may have expired and you’ll need to put in another request for OPP. Always check the dates on any contract before you sign, because you might want to reserve the right to pull out of buying until planning permission has been approved.

OPP should be viewed as just a temporary measure. Once you have refined your design, you will want to upgrade your Outline Planning Permission to Detailed Planning Permission by submitting your plans along with the other relevant documents the planning department will need.

Detailed Planning Permission / Approval of Reserved Matters

This is the step between your initial OPP and your Full Planning Permission. Detailed Planning Permission is also known as Approval of Reserved Matters, and this is the stage at which you will need to put forward your proposals for the in-depth design of the proposed building, the materials it will be constructed out of and its exact siting within the plot.

Normally when you take on a plot with OPP a date will have been fixed by which the local authorities expect to have received your Approval of Reserved Matters documentation, and if you fail to submit these more detailed plans by that date, you will have to go right back to square one and apply for basic planning permission all over again.

At this point the decision makers in the planning department will be looking at a range of criteria when assessing your application, including whether it will impact on the privacy of neighbouring properties, parking and traffic concerns, the impact on the local area, the layout and dimensions of the proposed structure and its design, appearance and the materials to be used. They will also consider the project in the light of other government policies and take into consideration previous planning decisions and the impact the building might have on the natural environment.

Full Planning Permission (FPP)

Full Planning Permission (FPP) is the golden ticket which will allow you to start building your new home, to your designs. FPP merges both your Outline Planning Permission with your more detailed proposals, and if your designs are accepted by the local planning authorities then work can begin.

Local authorities have the power to dictate a time frame in which the building work must be completed, usually around three years from the date of approval. If planning permission lapses before you begin work then you will need to resubmit your proposals, so always keep an eye on the dates.

The process of applying for FPP is relatively straightforward, and almost three quarters of applications are approved first time around. Decisions are usually made within ten to twelve weeks of your designs being submitted, and fees for applying vary across the country. If you’re one of the unlucky quarter whose plans are rejected, you will then have to take on board the reasons they were turned down and amend your designs before resubmitting them.

To minimise the risk of that happening, it’s almost always a good idea to get professional advice from a planning consultant. While they might seem like a costly initial outlay, bringing in a consultant who understands the ins and outs of the local planning department and government policy could save you thousands in the long-run. If you find a good consultant before you purchase your plot, they will be able to work out the potential of your investment, how feasible your plans are, what amendments might need to be made before applying for FPP and offer useful advice if your intended plot falls within a conservation area or has other restrictions placed on it.