Planning permission and building regulations approval for a modern house extension

Introduction to Planning Permission

As you might have guessed, the question ‘do I need Planning Permission?’ does not have a straight forward answer. To further complicate matters, the government introduced legislation, known colloquially as ‘Permitted Development’ several years ago. Upon receipt of planning permission, there is an additional burden known as ‘Building Regulations approval’. The purpose of this article is to explore these subjects in greater detail and provide some useful advice.

If you need assistance with Planning Permission, Permitted Development and/or Building Regulations approval then don’t hesitate to contact us. Visit our contact page, we’d love to hear from you and discuss your project.

Planning Permission & Permitted Development

Any project falling under the definition of ‘development’, defined by law as building, engineering, or mining operation requires planning permission. The introduction of Permitted Development rights via ‘The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015‘ effectively sets out classes of development for which a grant of planning permission is automatically given. The Department for Local Government and Communities produce technical guidance for householders wishing to take advantage of permitted development rights. This guidance contains detailed descriptions of permitted development.

It is important to remember that Permitted Development is Planning Permission that is already granted so long as the guidance is adhered to. Simple? well, not quite. Herein lies one of the biggest risks with Permitted Development Rights. As with all planning related matters, interpretation of the so called ‘rules’ applies. Why is this a problem? We’ve outlined a scenario.

  1. Homeowner constructs an extension as Permitted Development.
  2. Homeowner decides to sell the property.
  3. Buyers’ solicitors ask for evidence of planning permission.
  4. Evidence doesn’t exist because full planning permission was never applied for.
  5. Investigations begin and the vendor discovers what they thought was Permitted Development, turns out not to be.
  6. Sale of the property is now at risk.

This unfortunate scenario is not uncommon. Moving house is among the most stressful events in a person’s life. Imagine finding your dream home, only to discover the sale can’t proceed because of a planning error. So, how do you avoid this scenario? Firstly, think carefully about your project. Is Permitted Development suitable and will it achieve the outcome your truly want? Secondly, if Permitted Development is the right route for you, submit the proposals to the Local Planning Authority prior to construction to obtain a ‘Lawful Development Certificate’. Unfortunately, the process to issue a ‘Lawful Development Certificate’ is eerily similar to Full Householder Planning Permission. It can often take just as long and the fee for submission is half that of a Full Householder Planning Permission. At this point, you may be wondering ‘why don’t I just apply for Full Householder Planning Permission?’. Our answer: this might be a better option for your project, but if you’re still feeling unsure, don’t hesitate to give us a call and we can discuss your particular requirements.

Do I need Building Regulations approval?

I hope we have established a basic understanding of the differences between Planning Permission and Permitted Development. The next stage in the project lifecycle is called Building Regulations approval. We’re always surprised that when architectural design is featured in the media, particularly on television, rarely is Building Regulations approval mentioned. Such programs tend to focus entirely on issues relating to Planning Permission. However, Building Regulations approval is a legal requirement. So, what does it mean?

Firstly, there are two routes to achieve compliance. You can either submit a Building Notice or submit a Full Plans application. So, what is the difference? The Building Notice was introduced to enable small, simple house extensions to begin on site immediately after Planning Permission is received. So, theoretically combining Permitted Development with a Building Notice enables your project to begin on site with immediate effect. We can already see why this approach appears to be advantageous, but there are also risks which ought to be considered. In our opinion it is a risk to begin a project without a Lawful Development Certificate, as discussed above. It is also a risk to begin a project with outline planning drawings, which contain almost no information relating to construction. As a rule of thumb, the less information provided to a contractor the less accurate their quotation will be. What does this mean? Well, it could mean the price was lower than it should have been, because the contractor priced what was shown on the outline planning drawings in addition to their own assumptions. As a result it may lack a cost for items such as underground drainage, plumbing, electrical and plumbing etc. Alternatively, a more diligent contractor might include all of the above, but submit a much higher price. All in all, these two quotations would not be comparable, or a reflection of the project because the contractors were not given enough information to provide an accurate estimate.

Confused? Well, we think we have the answer. Remember we discussed another route to Building Regulations approval? This is called a ‘Full Plans’ application. This type of application requires both detailed architectural drawings and specifications with detailed structural calculations and drawings. When your house extension has been granted Planning Permission the Full Plans information is prepared and submitted to the Local Building Control department. Crucially, the drawings contain detailed construction build-ups and specifications. They are also coordinated with the Structural Engineer’s drawings and calculations. While it is not a comprehensive package of drawings and specifications, known as a tender submission, it usually contains enough detailed information for a contractor to arrive at a more accurate construction cost. So, we have developed a robust pack of drawings, specifications and calculations for Building Regulations which can also be used the contractor to provide you with a more accurate construction cost estimate. 

The ultimate purpose of the Building Regulations application process is for you to demonstrate to Building Control that the principles of construction comply with the Building Regulations. Therefore, the information isn’t a complete tender or construction package. We think it is probably about 80%-85% of the information required for construction. But, under a Building Notice, construction begins with about 20%-25% of the information required. Another way to think about this is cost risk. The less information provided to your contractor the greater the cost uncertainty, and therefore greater cost risk. Remember that procuring construction services is unlike buying that brand new car in a showroom; you are instead paying to design the car before it arrives in the show room!

The government publishes guidance in the form of sixteen Approved Documents, which are intended to demonstrate methods of complying with the building regulations. However, it is important to understand that the Approved Documents represent a method of compliance, they are not themselves the regulations. There are other, innovative ways to achieve compliance but this route can be more difficult to validate with the relevant local authority.

Conclusion: Get in touch, we can advise you

You must check whether the work requires building regulations approval. It is also important to remember that, while there is a legal context for approval, so too exist responsibilities regarding safety. Any work you do carry out, whether or not you intend to do it yourself, must be carried out safely. You can also use the Competent Persons Register to find individuals and organisations that are able to self-certify their work with respect to building regulations compliance.

We are fully qualified architects with a range of experience on residential projects. If you’re still asking the question ‘Do I need an architect; planning and building regulations?’, then please call us, or use the contact form, we’re here to help. The services we provide to homeowners can be very diverse. Our clients often require an initial consultation to discuss requirements, options and learn from our experience.

Let’s Build Something

Please drop us a note about your project via our contact form.