How to apply for planning permission

Garden sheds, log cabins and greenhouses are great additions to nearly every garden – but the rules about what you can build can be complicated.

Most ‘outbuildings’, as they are referred to, are considered to be ‘permitted development’ and so don’t require planning permission except in certain circumstances. This applies to houses - there are more stringent regulations for the owners of flats and apartments.

Even for house-owners there are several conditions for permitted developments including:

  • No building in front of the line of the house
  • Maximum height is 2.5 metres and single storey only
  • No verandas or balconies allowed
  • The new outbuilding cannot cover more than half the land around the original house

There are also more restrictions for listed buildings or houses in National Parks or similarly protected areas known as designated land. For anything beyond this, you’ll need planning permission.

So while a modest garden shed is unlikely to require a visit to the planning office, plans for a log cabin and swimming pools might well mean navigating the red tape of your local council’s town planning department.

Advice on planning permission

Where do I apply for planning permission?

Planning permission comes under the remit of your local authority – your London borough or city council or if you live in a rural area or a small town this is likely to be your district council.

The basic process starts when you submit your plans to your council’s planning department. This will mean filling in forms stating what you intend to do and including drawings of the property as it stands, and drawings that show what you want to do. There’s also a fee.

A planning officer is assigned to your case and he or she will consider it, and possibly give you advice on whether or not the application is likely to succeed as it stands.

The plans are then published by the council and your neighbours will be invited to make any comments on your proposal. Other organisations like parish councils, conservation groups and water companies may also be approached for a comment.

Getting planning approval

If there are no objections and the plans for your log cabin or summerhouse are considered to be minor, the planning officer – a paid civil servant – may be able to approve or reject the development under ‘delegated powers’.

But if there are objections, then the plans may need to be considered by the planning committee – a group of elected councillors who usually convene once or twice a month to consider the latest applications.

Your planning application may be approved, but the council may impose conditions such as the sorts of materials you use, what you do with waste and rubbish, and the times of day that you are allowed to conduct building work.

Dealing with rejection

If the application is rejected, then you have two options. You can negotiate with the planning department to find out what they would deem to be acceptable, then submit a fresh application. Or if you believe that the council has acted unfairly, you can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate by writing to them.

Retrospective planning applications

If you discover after building your shed or log cabin that you should have applied for planning permission, then you can still submit an application. Your local council will probably invite you to make an application and the fact you have built without permission does not automatically count against you. But you may still end up needing to demolish your outbuilding so it’s vital to check before you start building.

Using an architect or planning agent

It might be a good idea to hire a planning consultant or architect to help you draft your initial application. Find one who works regularly with your local authority – if they are in regular contact with planning officers they will have a good idea about what sorts of developments are allowed. The short term expense may save you time and heartache in the long term. Planning applications are meant to be decided within eight weeks, but many take longer and the appeals process can take several months.

Every project is different and the rules on planning can vary from authority to authority so it’s important that you check the rules covering your area before going ahead. Check out your local council’s planning website for an idea of the rules and regulations you will need to follow.  It is also worthwhile checking out the Government’s planning portal as it is a great place to look for specific advice about your project.

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