Guide to planning permission and building control process

Planning permission and building control can often be complex and confusing. We are breaking down what they are, what they are for, how they work and most importantly, how to apply it to your own home.

What is planning permission?

Planning Permission is, as the name suggests, obtaining permission before carrying out certain works. Planning Permission exists to prevent works that may be detrimental to the existing locale, whether for environmental, safety or aesthetic reasons. Planning Permission can cover everything from works on an individual property, to large housing developments consisting of many thousands of homes. We are going to only be looking at the individual home, what needs planning permission and how to go about it.

What doesn’t require planning permission?

Not all improvements or changes to your home require planning permission, below is a short and by no means exhaustive list of some of things that are allowed under permitted development, as opposed to requiring planning permission.

This is a general list, if you live in a listed building, a conservation area or there are conditions on your lease, you may still need planning permission.

  • Single story extension
  • Interior re-model
  • Replacing windows
  • Adding skylights
  • Two story extension
  • Conservatory
  • Porch
  • Swimming pool

All the above, subject to meeting certain restrictions, can be carried out without the need to gain planning permission. For example, a two story extension can be added to your home under permitted development providing it is at the rear of the dwelling, does not exceed 3m in depth and must be no closer than 7m to the rear boundary, additionally if you are in a conservation area or own a listed building then this work will not fall under permitted development.

What does require planning permission?

Essentially any work you wish to carry out on your home that does not fall under permitted development will require planning permission. This can include:

  • Subdividing an existing home into more than one
  • Extensions outside of permitted development parameters
  • Larger outbuildings
  • If your home is listed or in a conservation area

How to apply for planning permission?

The first thing you need to do is visit the planning portal website where you can start the application process. Bear in mind this can be extremely complex if you are new to the planning process, a lot of home owners embarking on a project that requires planning permission will employ a planning consultant to handle this aspect for them.

As well as ensuring the planning application is complete when submitted, they should also ensure that the factors that can affect a successful application have been considered. Some of these factors include:

  • Loss of privacy
  • Loss of light
  • Traffic
  • Noise
  • Design and appearance

There are also other considerations to take into account prior to submitting your application they include:

  • Consulting the local water and sewage company or the Environment Agency, this is to identify potential water related issues such as sewage or flooding
  • The HSE should be consulted if your project makes use of any dangerous materials
  • Consulting the Highways Authority, this is to identify any potential traffic and road safety issues

If you live in an area of archaeological importance there will need to be a six week notice period before the work starts so the site can be investigated. There are five areas in England that count as an area of archaeological importance, they are the historic city centres of:

  • Canterbury
  • Chester
  • Exeter
  • Hereford
  • York

A wildlife assessment check should be carried out and local authorities have a statutory requirement to consider the impact a proposal could have on local wildlife. The check can be easily carried out using the Wildlife Assessment Check tool in advance of you submitting your application, potentially saving you time and money.

As you can see there are potential aspects that it may be easy to overlook, making a good argument for employing a planning consultant.

If your current design isn’t deemed to be meeting any of these criteria, a good planning consultant should be able to work with your designers/architects/trades people to alter your design so that it is more likely to succeed. Your planning consultant should also ensure all the documentation is in order before the application is submitted, as a minimum a typical application should include;

  • The correct fee for the application
  • A signed ownership certificate
  • A site plan of both the proposed an existing site
  • Five copies of the application form

How long does it take for planning permission to be granted?

It should, typically, take 8 weeks for your application to be processed and to find out if you have been successful or not. During this 8-week period a notice will be posted out the front of your property detailing the work to be carried out, allowing any one concerned about the work to raise any issues with the planning department.

Once the planning for your project has been given consent, the next step is to start the work. The chances are high, however, that your local building control will have to be involved in some way. In this section we are going to take a look at what building control is and what sort of work requires their approval.

What is building control?

All local authorities in England and Wales, i.e. the local authority you applied to for planning permission, make up part of the Local Authority Building Control (or the LABC for short). They are the largest building control network in the UK and ensure that any work carried out meets the required standards laid down in the Building Regulations. They will issue a Completion Certificate when the work has been finished, which will say it has been carried out correctly.

One key thing to note is that it is the property owner’s responsibility to obtain building control approval. In a lot of cases the, tradespeople you have engaged to carry out the work will be aware of what is required with regards to building control and deal with it, but it is always possible to check with your LABC to ensure that this has been done.

The Building Regulations

The building regulations cover anything defined as building work. Building work is defined in the building regulations as the following:
meaning of building work

As you can see, the scope for building work is quite broad ranging and does cover a lot of the work that you may have carried out in your home. The aim of the building regulations is to ensure that where we live is a healthy and safe place and that buildings provide adequate access for those who are disabled, elderly, children, and sick, and that the buildings themselves are energy efficient and sustainable.

How do I make an application for building control?

Depending on the type of work that is being undertaken, there are two options. For smaller projects, a ‘building notice’ is used by your trades person. For larger or more complex projects, what is known as a full plan application must be made via your local authority. If you are not sure who your local authority is visit LABC and enter your post code, this will provide you with the contact details you require.

Another thing that is worth noting is that you may be carrying out work that does not require planning permission, this does not make it exempt from requiring building control, further down this article we will take a look at some examples of this.

Self-Certfication

Some work carried out by some trades can be completed by a tradesperson who is registered with a self-certification scheme. This means the tradesperson is with a government approved scheme and will be able to sign off their own work to say that it complies with the relevant building regulations. Some examples are listed below.

For installing windows:

  • FENSA – Fenestration Self-Assessment, companies registered with FENSA will be able to self-certify the compliance of their work.
  • CERTASS – Certification and Assessment, as with FENSA, if the installer is registered with CERTASS they will be able to self-certify their own work.

For gas using appliances such as heating and hot water systems:

  • GAS SAFE – A registered contractor with GAS SAFE can self-certify and issue certificates for the alteration and installation of gas, hot water and heating systems.

Solid fuel burning appliances i.e. wood burners:

  • HETAS – Heating Equipment Testing and Approvals Scheme, a registered contractor with HETAS can install and self-certify solid fuel burning equipment such as biomass boilers and log burners.

Oil fired boilers and heating:

  • OFTEC – Oil Firing Technical Association, as with GAS SAFE for gas and HETAS for solid fuel, a registered contractor with OFTEC is able to sign off their own installation work on oil using boilers and heating systems.

Roofing:

  • Competentroofer – As the name of this scheme suggests, Competentroofer allows the signing off of roofing work to members of the scheme.

Electrical work:

The electrical competent person’s schemes are often known as ‘Part P schemes’, this is due to the section of the building regulations that covers electrical installations in dwellings being Part-P, as a result you will often here people referring to the need to get a ‘Part P electrician’ in.

  • NAPIT
  • STROMA
  • NICEIC
  • ELECSA

The four electrical competent person schemes allow anyone carrying out notifiable electrical work to certify that it has been correctly installed in line with both the Building Regulations and the Wiring Regulations.

A good example of how this self-certification works is having your whole home re-wired, including replacement of your consumer unit. Under the Building Regulations this type of electrical work is classified as ‘building work’ meaning it would need to be notified to building control. By employing an electrician who is registered with one of the above schemes, your involvement will be limited to paying them for the work carried out. They will do the work, including a full test of the finished work and you will receive an electrical installation certificate.

Examples of building control

Alterations inside your home

When speaking about alterations inside a home, what is generally meant is changing the existing layout. The way we use our homes is constantly changing and the shape and layout of rooms reflect that. One of the most popular alterations that people make is removing internal walls to open up the living space.

When done in the appropriate sort of property and done well, it can make for a much more enjoyable and liveable space. There are two key things that will affect the work to be carried out however,  firstly is the wall load bearing? And secondly does the wall provide protection in the event of fire? If the wall is a load bearing wall, it will require building regulations consent.

The best course of action is to engage a professional structural engineer. They will be able firstly identify if the wall is load bearing or not. This is surprisingly difficult, as it is a common misconception that a load bearing wall will be solid masonry, whereas a simple partition wall will be a hollow stud wall. Some stud walls can still act as structural and some masonry walls may simply be partition walls.

If the wall you wish to remove is identified as load bearing, the structural engineer will also be able to design a solution that will allow for the property to remain safe when one the wall is removed. This often involves the installation of a large steel cross member to take the structural loads.

Protection from fire is something that is often overlooked when it comes to removing internal walls. The key thing to consider is whether the wall will provide protection for your primary escape route in your home. If removing the wall would open up that escape route, allowing fire to propagate through it and making it impassable, it may be better to leave it in place.

Other internal alteration work commonly carried out that would require the involvement of building control can involve the removal of chimney breasts in homes where the fire is no longer required or allowed to be used, again in this case a structural engineer should be involved to ensure that the removal of the chimney breast has taken into account any support the breast may be providing to the rest of the buildings structure.

If your home is a listed building different conditions will apply to your home. It may be the case that no remodelling or alteration of the interior can be carried out as it may be deemed detrimental to the character of the building.

New and additional windows

Replacing or adding existing windows to a property will quite often fall under permitted development as opposed to requiring planning permission, if, however, your property is either listed, in a conservation area or the design/location/size of the windows falls outside of those allowed under permitted development, planning permission will need to be sought.

Windows are defined as a controlled fitting under building regulations and as a result building control will need to be involved. There is an easy way around this however. By using a company registered with FENSA they will be able to self-certify their own work.

New windows have a certain amount of requirements that they are required to meet:

  • Requirements for ventilation e.g. trickle through vents
  • The Windows Energy Rating (WER)
  • Minimum size requirements
  • Security
  • Safety in the event of broken glass

Electrical Work

Any new electrical work should comply with Part P of the building regulations covering electrical safety in dwellings. Electrical work is broken into notifiable work, work that would need notifying to building control, and non-notifiable work, which doesn’t.

Notifiable work consists of:

  • The addition of a new circuit
  • The replacement of a consumer unit
  • Any work, other than the like for like replacement of a piece of equipment, I a special location i.e. the bathroom.

Non notifiable work consists of:

  • The extension, alteration of an existing circuit that is not in a special location.

For example, if you were having your kitchen redone and you decided to replace the existing single pendant lamp with downlights, it could count as either notifiable or non-notifiable depending how the lights were installed.

If the existing wiring was removed all the way back to your consumer unit and a completely new circuit put in for the down lights, this would count as notifiable work and building control would need to be informed.

If, however use was made of the existing cable and the downlights were added to what was already existing, this is only extending the original circuit and would count as minor works and would not need notifying to building control.

If you employ an electrician who is a member of a competent person’s scheme, they will be able to sign off the notifiable work themselves without having to go through building control.

Heating systems and boilers

Whether your heating is provided by gas, oil or solid fuel, any work on this equipment requires notification to building control. However, as it is a legal requirement for anyone carrying out work on this equipment to be registered with the respective scheme, such as GAS SAFE, this will be handled by the trades person you have employed to carry out the work.

Work on other elements such as the water pipes for central heating and the radiator themselves can be done without the need to notify building control in the majority of cases.

Insulation

It is rare that you will need to apply for planning permission to install insulation in your property, unless the property is listed or you intend on fitting external cladding to a property in a conservation area. Thermal insulation will however need to meet the requirements listed for it in the building regulations.  There is a vast range of different types of insulation available for installation currently. Like some of the other examples, using an approved contractor will allow them to self-certify their own work, when the work is completed you should receive a CIGA (Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency) certificate that provides a 25 year guarantee on the work and a building control completion certificate.     

Full plans building notice application

If the work you are going to carry out needs to have a full plans building notice application, then the process is still relatively straight forward. What you are essentially committing to by applying for this is that all work will be carried out to the requirements laid out in the building regulations. 2 days (48 Hrs) after the application has been accepted you can start work. Your LABC will arrange for one of their surveyors to visit your project to agree how the work will be completed. The advantage/disadvantage of this method is that no formal plans are required and instead the work is inspected over its course. This can save you time and money up front by not requiring detailed plans but can cost you more in the long run if it is deemed some work carried out does not meet the required standard.

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