If anyone tells you they can guarantee getting planning permission approved in the UK, they are either lying to you or they don’t understand how the system works.
Ive been a self employed Architect in the UK since 2009, specialising in altering and extending private homes. In that time Ive lodged 120 planning applications and only 8 were refused. Some people think the UK planning system is broken, or flawed, because it can sometimes produce what appear to be contradictory outcomes. Your modest house extension got refused planning while a developer up the road gets permission for 100 new build houses in a field. How is that fair?
What people forget is that the planning system is not a bureaucracy, it's a quasi judicial arbitration process where the jury is made up of politicians. While planning departments often publish detailed guidance on what kind of development they will support, they aren’t bound by these guidelines. They are just guidelines, they aren’t obligated to approve your application. The System has a lot of discretion built in. That isn’t a bug, it's a feature.
There were lots of videos on YouTube about how to get planning permission, but these are all somewhat misleading, because the system is fundamentally uncertain. If you are thinking of extending your house, or self building your dream home, you will need to go through the planning process. So, I thought it would be more valuable to give you a list of FOUR things not to do, because they guarantee your application will be refused.
You see, following the guidance published by the planning department might increase you chances of getting approval but going against that guidance guarantees refusal. You can follow the guidance to the letter and you might still get refused but if you disregard the guidance altogether your design has no chance. At the end of this post I will also give you tips on limiting the number of objections from neighbours, how to get around people arguing about their right to a view, and whether permitted development it the way to go.
Let start with the big one; Building contrary to the local plan.
So, every local authority is required by law to create a local plan. This is a document that sets out how development, including housing, business construction and infrastructure can best benefit the area the council is responsible for. If you are trying to build a house in a rural area, or you want to convert a commercial building into a home, the local plan matters. Your local authority may have already decided this kind of development is not what they want in their area. You could design the greatest house ever, but it won’t get planning permission because the local plan doesn’t want a house in that location. It's that simple.
So if you are considering buying a site or developing an old building, contact the local planning department and ask about the local plan for that area.
Next up is overlooking or loss of privacy.
If you want to build an extension or a new house and there are neighbours nearby, those neighbours can have a reasonable expectation of privacy for any rear gardens or windows to bedrooms and living rooms. This can be a tricky one and the emphasis is on whether the expectation of privacy is reasonable. The rear gardens to a row of terrace houses or the back of tenement are a classic example. These are usually overlooked by neighbours all the time. So an extension won’t make things any worse. However If your neighbour has a detached villa with a secluded rear garden and your two storey extension will peer down into it, removing any privacy they once had, that can be reason enough for the planners to refuse the application.
For things like windows to bedrooms there is often published guidance on how close your new window can be to an exiting neighbours window. If the new window faces the exiting window it usually can’t be any closer than 18m, if the glass is parallel, but its might be possible to build closer if the windows are at an angle to each other.
Next on our list of things that guarantee your planning application will be refused is overshadowing.
This is the idea that neighbouring properties have a right to both direct sunlight and also to daylight, these two things are treated differently by the planning system.
Planning departments usually allow new structures to cast some shadows, nothing would ever get built if they didn't. And many planning departments publish diagrams like this one, showing how you can measure the shadow cast by your proposed extension or new house.
If this seems complex wait until you meet 3D shadow diagrams. These can be requested by the planners during an application, to show the extent of overshadowing on a neighbours garden.
This is one I made for a house extension in Edinburgh. We had to show the shadows cast on the Spring equinox didn't exceed a certain area of the neighbours garden for a certain period of time. I won this application despite the neighbour objecting.
Now, This kind of thing usually requires professional assistance. So, If you are thinking about building a new house or an extension and you are wondering where to begin, you can book a consultation with me check out the terms and conditions before you book.
And the final thing on my list of no no’s for planning applications is, Loss of amenity. Specifically, this is loss to your neighbours amenity and the definition can be quite broad, so let me give you a recent example from my own work.
I met a client a few weeks back who lived in a terraced house. Their property didn't have much space out the front, just a driveway with space for two cars and nothing else. The client wanted to create a porch on the front of their house, so they had somewhere to put coats and wellies. All perfectly reasonable and they had even checked the local planning guidance, which had information on the maximum size for porches at the front of a house.
All good, except I pointed out that if they built the porch it would make the front driveway smaller and only one car could fit on it. And if they proposed to park a car on the street this would lead to a loss of amenity for their neighbours because the street was already crammed full of cars. The last thing the planners want to do is remove off-street parking to city centre properties and put more cars on the street. You always have to think how your proposed building will affect you local community. So, No porch for that client.
Those are four things that can guarantee your planning application wont be approved. But there are other things to consider and one of the main ones is how to limit objections from neighbours. When I first starting practicing architecture the planning department required me to write a letter to every neighbour around my clients property. I remember spending evenings stuffing envelopes and then giving them to my clients to deliver to their neighbours. I always advised they take a copy of my drawings, go door to door, and talk about our proposal with each neighbour.
A few years later the planners decided they would take over this task and write to the neighbours themselves. At first I was like, great, no more evenings spent stuffing envelopes. But after this change came into force I noticed the number of objections from neighbours increased. It seems the personal touch has its benefits. Going round to your neighbours to talk about your proposal can be all it takes to prevent them firing off an objection to the planners. It doesn’t always work but its a very good start.
If a neighbour does object one of the classics that keeps being used is that the new building will block their view. And maybe the building does block the neighbours view but, here’s the thing. None of us has a right to a view. This one has been on the statue books for centuries. If homeowners had a right to a view, nothing would ever get built.
Now, given all the points I mentioned above you might be thinking, maybe permitted development is the way to go. And, sure, if the building you need is small enough to comply with permitted development guidance, go for it. But do not design the building just so it complies with permitted development. Don't limit yourself just out of fear of the planning process. Think back to my success rate, 120 planning applications and only 8 refusals. It is possible to get planning permission, most of the time, if you understand the system.
Hire an experienced local architect and get what you need. Remember, the planners aren’t paying for your building and they aren’t going to live there, so why design it just for them.