Planning permission and building control

What is the difference between planning permission and building regulations?

Many building developments, though not all, will require both planning permission and building regulations (or building control). But what is the difference between planning permission and building control? The simplest explanation is that planning is consent for WHAT you build, and building regulations are about HOW you build it. You could also say they are different processes with different departments checking different things. You might also have heard of Permitted Development, which allows some building work to go ahead without planning permission.
  • Planning permission is all about the appearance of the development.  Ensuring it fits in with the local area and is in keeping with the existing structure (where applicable). Work involving only internal alterations does not require planning permission but would usually still need building regulations approval.
  • Building regulations take care of the nuts and bolts – or rather the bricks and mortar (and everything else). It’s all about how you build.  E.g., the size of the roof timbers, how the drainage is done and ensuring the result is energy efficient. Building control bodies check that work complies with the Building Regulations legislation.
  • Permitted development is another term you may have heard of. This allows you to extend your house within a more limited specification, without the need to apply for planning permission. You must still comply with building regulations.
This is hands down the most confusing part of a project, so part of my role is to help my clients better understand the processes and requirements and help them to navigate it. – Carl
Planning permission – what you need to know
Planning permission
What will affect my application for planning permission?
Every local authority (LA) has a local plan setting out its ambitions for the city or area it covers. This is based on the planning policies of central government together with the authority’s objectives for the area. A local authority’s local plan drives its planning policies. When assessing your proposal, planning officers are considering national and local policies. This affects everything from the smallest domestic extension to the largest shopping centre development. The two main considerations for planning officers looking at domestic projects are:
1. Design – how it will look
Everyone sees the exterior of a building, therefore, appearance/aesthetics are the primary considerations, including the external materials used. The planning office must decide if the impact on the surrounding area is positive or negative. Every street and house is different and most local authorities recognise this and will have some flexibility within the guidelines. An unusual development may contrast rather than fit with the buildings surrounding it, but planners might consider that it enhances the area with the quality and style of its design and build.
2. Amenity – the impact on your neighbours
will my extension affect my neighbours   If you increase a house’s size or alter its external appearance, you will probably affect someone’s privacy, outlook or light: Privacy: you must consider whether your proposal overshadows your neighbour’s property or impacts their privacy. Many properties in urban areas lack some privacy because they are already overlooked. Therefore, the extent of the impact is considered, ie how much less privacy your neighbours would have compared with now. Outlook: similarly, they will examine if and how much your development will negatively affect the ‘prospect’ from someone else’s property. Light: you might think that blocking the light to someone’s house is one of the main reasons for failed planning consent. In reality, it isn’t top of the list. But if your new extension will limit the light coming into your neighbour’s windows then there may be an issue. The rule of thumb is that someone must not be significantly impacted, and this of course is open to interpretation.
Apply early
Obtaining planning permission gives you the approval in principle to go ahead with your development, so do it early. This is also because consent is fixed, as it’s based on the drawings and plans submitted. Once approved, what you build must match the original plans. It can be worth submitting a pre-application enquiry to get early feedback, then you can make any changes if required. This might save time, but it isn’t always the case and depends on the local authority. Check with your architect or planning professional.
The process
  • Planning permission submissions are made on the national planning portal and received by your local authority. Providing it contains all the details they need, they will validate the application within a few days.
  • Then it goes on the planning register for a planning officer to assess and make a decision. This should be done within eight weeks but can take longer.
  • During this time your neighbours will be consulted in writing and notices are displayed in the street. The plans are available online for anyone to view and comment on.
  • If your neighbours raise any concerns or objections, the local authority will need to decide if the objection is valid. Just because someone has objected doesn’t mean it can’t go ahead, but it may affect the design.
  • If permission is granted, you can approach builders with your designs.
  • If it’s refused, then you may be able to amend your designs and make a new application.
Can I apply for planning permission or do I need a professional?
Anyone can make a planning application, however, the information required is detailed and complex. Making mistakes or failing to submit all the relevant information will cause delays.
Handing the responsibility to your architect or planning professional gives your development the best chance of being approved. – Carl
Why should your architect handle planning permission?
  • It ensures all relevant information is submitted, and the technicalities are covered.
  • They have done hundreds of applications for similar projects and know what works.
  • They have good local knowledge and understand the local authority’s requirements.
  • A professional impact statement can positively influence planning considerations.
  • It takes a complex process off your hands.
Certificate of Lawful Development
Even if you don’t need planning permission, it’s a good idea to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development before building work commences. This ensures that the work conforms to the rules and is useful if you sell your home as it proves everything is legal.
Permitted development (aka what can I build without planning permission?)
Some projects don’t require any planning permission as they fall under permitted development, where work is allowed within a set of existing regulations. For example:
  • Building a single-storey extension on the rear of a property
  • Converting a loft or garage into living space
  • Erecting certain types of fences, walls, and gates
  • Installing solar panels on a roof
However, the criteria are strict and affect the precise size of what’s allowed. For example, the extension must not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by more than three metres for a detached house or four metres for any other house. Bear in mind also that permitted development rules may vary by local authority and even depending on the location, and rules can and do change. It’s worth consulting an architect or planning professional to be sure that your project is safely within the regulations. Also, some properties are not eligible for permitted development rights, such as listed buildings, properties in conservation areas, and properties on land designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. You can find more details on the government’s website.
Conservation areas
Planning permission in conservation areas In conservation areas planning applications are scrutinised more, because there are higher standards for design and materials. Alterations to the exterior must improve the appearence of the building or the area, or ensure it doesn’t look worse. The development doesn’t necessarily need to match the surrounding buildings.  But it should enhance the look and character of its surroundings. If there are various styles or appearances in a single street, it would be impossible to harmonise with them all. Local authorities can, and sometimes do, remove permitted development rules in conservation areas, meaning all alterations must go through the planning approval process.
Listed Buildings
Listed buildings are those deemed to be of special architectural or historical interest.  A common misconception is that it’s impossible to alter or extend a listed building. In reality, while the rules are more stringent, they depend on the type or grade of listing. Grade I – buildings of exceptional interest – think Buckingham Palace and the Royal Opera House. Grade II* – particularly important and more than special interest – buildings of some national importance. Grade II – the most common listed buildings – are deemed special interest, warranting every effort being made to preserve their character. However, there is scope for alteration within the regulations. Another widespread misunderstanding is that the regulations around listed buildings apply to the exterior only.  In fact, the rules apply to the entire property, inside and out, including the garden, outside area and boundary walls. Even objects/structures that have existed within the perimeter – known as the curtilage of the building – since 1948 are affected.
Other terms you may have heard of
Party Walls
A party wall is a wall you share with your neighbour if you live in a terrace or semi-detached house. In England and Wales, the Party Wall Act is designed to protect both parties when work involves a party wall. Depending on the work being undertaken, you may have to inform your neighbour and have their written consent. If your neighbour does not consent, then an agreed surveyor may be appointed to investigate. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has a Consumer Guide to Party Walls that explains the kind of work covered by the party wall act and your responsibilities.
Rights to light
What do we want? Light! When do we want it? Ok, that’s enough of that, but as homeowners and citizens, do we really have any rights over light? In fact, it’s a common misconception that people – and buildings – have a ‘right’ to light. But as levels of ‘acceptable light’ have never been objectively quantified, the law is vague at best. It doesn’t mean that if you block a little of your neighbour’s light, they will be able to prevent your development. But if they do object, it might affect the overall design. Loss of view does not count as a valid planning objection, and your architect will usually factor this into the plan. There is a legal standing around the right to light, covering the ‘considerable loss of light into a dwelling that had been uninterrupted for more than 20 years.’ But this is a civil matter, requiring a private lawsuit, is a costly process and usually fails. Read about getting more natural light into your home. The above is for general guidance only. Always check with a professional to understand how your plans may be considered.   The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, does not constitute professional advice and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any company or organisation. Readers should always seek professional advice before undertaking any action based on the information contained in this article. The author makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, or suitability of the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in the article for any purpose. 

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