Avoiding planning permission pitfalls
Planning permission is the legal process of determining whether proposed developments should be permitted. Responsibility for determining planning applications generally lies with local planning authorities (usually, the planning department of the district or borough council).
However, the process is a complex one, and without specialist knowledge it can be very easy to make mistakes. This article looks at some of the common pitfalls that can be encountered.
 Is planning permission needed?
The first thing that must be considered is whether planning permission is actually required at all.
Generally, all developments require planning permission. However, permitted development orders (PDO) are in place many areas, listing works that are permitted without needing to apply for permission. This may include minor alterations such as: changes to porches, doors and windows; decoration; certain changes of use; certain enlargements or alterations to houses, and so on.
However, there are restrictions for certain areas and building types (such as conservation areas and listed buildings), and local authorities are able to remove permitted development rights by issuing an Article 4 Direction.
In April 2016, the government published Permitted development rights for householders: technical guidance to help householders understand the detailed rules on permitted development and the terms used.
See Permitted development for more information.
 How long does it take?
For more information see Planning permission - how long does it take.
 What other permissions are needed?
Other permissions may be required for building works or changes of use:
- Permission from a landlord or agent may be required if the property is leasehold. Consent must be sought in the case that a clause in the lease prevents alterations without permission. While this may be time-consuming, it is much less problematic than having to apply for retrospective permission if the works have already been done.
- The deeds on a property must also be checked, even if it is freehold, as restrictive covenants may prevent changes of a certain kind. If there is any uncertainty it is advisable to seek assistance from a solicitor before proceeding.
- The building regulations also have to be complied with. For more information see Building regulations.
- Health and safety regulations may have to be complied with, such as the CDM regulations.
- There may be licensing requirements. For more information see Licensing.
- Depending on the nature of the project, there can be a wide range of other statutory obligations. For more information see Statutory obligations.
 Not gaining planning permission
Planning authorities are able to take enforcement action in this situation, and in some cases properties are demolished because they have not obtained the correct permissions. Alternatively, the developer may be required to modify the completed works, or to return the development to its previous ‘permitted’ state.
It is possible to apply for retrospective planning permission, and the local planning authority will then consider the application in the same way that they would any other application. Retrospective permission may be granted, however, there is a very serious risk that permission will not be granted and then enforcement action may be taken. See Retrospective planning permission for more information.
There is also legislation that means in some circumstances enforcement action cannot be taken against works carried out over a certain number of years previously, however, it is a risk to assume that works will fall into these categories.
 Affording the investment
Before gaining planning permission it is important to assess whether or not the project is affordable. If it is not, it may be necessary to apply to change the permission, or to submit a new planning application.
Sometimes businesses, particularly SMEs, fail to acquire the correct planning permission when changes to their business mean that the premises have changed in terms of their use class. There are very complicated rules that must be taken into account concerning use classes, as an infringement may amount to a failure to obtain panning permission and a breach of the terms of the lease.
Planning permission is not needed to change the use of a development when the current use and the proposed use are within the same class, or for certain other permitted changes of use class. For more information, see Change of use class.
 Rules and instructions
Lengthy delays can occur if planning applications are not submitted correctly.
The forms accompanying the planning application must be filled in accurately and comprehensively. Care should be taken, and advice sought from planning officers if necessary, as requirements and restrictions may vary depending on the specific council. For more information see Pre-application advice.
The amount of information required will vary with the complexity of the project and whether an outline planning application or detailed planning application are being made. For more information see Outline planning application and Detailed planning application.
Some particularly large or complex developments may be required to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment.
People may decide to apply for planning permission by themselves without seeking professional assistance. Whilst in the short term this may prove cheaper, it can result in a failed or delayed application or the attachment of onerous planning conditions or planning obligations that have very serious knock-on implications.
 Changes after submission
Section 96A of the Town and Country Planning Act allows 'non-material' amendments to be made to planning permissions without the need to submit fresh application. Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act allows changes to the conditions applying to existing permissions and if the conditions allow, this can be used to allow minor material changes.
However, it can be difficult and time consuming to make significant changes to a planning permission and so it is important to be absolutely sure about the application and all of the details before they are submitted.
Significant changes might require a fresh application.
 Lapse of permission
Planning permissions generally only last for three years. If the the works have not been commenced within this period the permission will be considered to have expired.
See: How long does planning permission last for more information.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Article 4 direction.
- Bidding for renovation works.
- Building an extension.
- Change of use class.
- Detailed planning permission.
- Extensions to time limits for implementing existing planning permissions.
- How long does it take to get planning permission.
- How long does planning permission last.
- Outline planning permission.
- Permitted development.
- Planning enforcement.
- Planning fees.
- Planning permission.
- Prior approval.
- Sui generis.
- The difference between planning permission building regulations approval.
- Use class designation for land and buildings.
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