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A guide to planning permission for properties and land

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By Pete Mugleston  | Mortgage Advisor Pete has been a mortgage advisor for over 10 years, and is regularly cited in both trade and national press.

Updated: 25th June 2019 *

Planning permission can be a minefield for the unwary. Whether that’s trying to finance a self-build, buying a home with an unauthorised home extension, trying to work within the constraints of a conservation area, or worse - many find themselves falling foul of their local planning authority.

In this article, we’ll explain how planning permission works and how it relates to buying land or property. Need a little expert help getting the financing? You’re in the right place. Get in touch - we’ll put you in touch with one of the expert  advisors we work with, who can give you the right advice. .

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What is planning permission?

Put simply, planning permission is written approval from your local planning authority (often your local council) to undertake a building project. Planning permission can be granted (or denied) based on a range of factors, which we’ll discuss in more detail.

Typically, you need planning permission to build new property, make major changes to an existing property (i.e. a sizeable extension), or to change the use or external appearance of an existing building. However, you don’t always need planning permission.

How do you know if you need planning permission?

Your local planning authority tends to set and enforce the rules - so if in doubt, ask them.

Remember: it’s your responsibility to ask first. If you proceed with a project without planning permission, you could find yourself in hot water later down the line. You could even be forced to undo all of the work at your own expense! Planning permission is enforced by law.

What is 'permitted development’?

Also known as ‘permitted development rights’ - as the name may suggest, permitted development is work that doesn’t require an application for planning permission.

For example, building a small conservatory in your garden is often considered permitted development, as is a loft conversion in which nothing changes to the exterior of the house.

All that said, it’s worth remembering that the rules around permitted development are stricter in certain parts of the country.

For example, if you live in a conservation area, an area of outstanding natural beauty or national park, you might need to apply for permission on projects that you wouldn’t normally have to in a ‘non-designated’ area.

Listed buildings come with their own kinds of restrictions, regardless of where they’re located. Laws and restrictions can also apply to the interior of the building and the contents of the garden.

What are the different kinds of planning permission?

There are two types of planning permission - ‘full’ and ‘outline’.

Full permission is approval on the exact detailed plans you intend to use to build your project. This includes full architectural blueprints, drainage details and highway access, how the site will be laid out and more. This lets the planning authority understand exactly what you’re planning to do, and is typically more expensive and time-consuming.

Outline permission is, as you may imagine, an outline of what you’re planning to do. It’s faster, cheaper, less detailed and allows the local authority to get an idea of your plans. The idea here is to make sure that objections and concerns can be addressed early - stopping the very real (and very expensive) need to ‘go back to the drawing board’.

In some instances, you can complete a project with outline permission - but for larger, more complex projects, you’ll need full permission.

What’s the difference between 'planning permission’ and 'building regulations’?

Anyone seriously researching planning permission needs to also be aware of building regulations - which apply to everything - even instances in which you don’t need planning permission.

Building regulations are a set of rules designed to ensure that buildings are safe and secure. They include, for example, the need for disabled access, a certain amount of energy efficiency and structural integrity.

These are enforced by your local Building Control Body (BCB) - often your local council. An application for building regulation approval is called a ‘Building Control Application’.

In contrast, planning permission is designed to guide the development of a region on the whole - for example, buildings and landscapes that are in keeping with the surrounding architecture and natural environment.

How to apply for planning permission

Both planning permission and building control applications are now done online, through the government’s Planning Portal.

Can I get help with planning permission?

Yes. To a certain extent, your planning authority is obliged to provide you with all of the information you require to make an application - though if you want a meeting on the matter they may charge you for a consultation.

Another option would be to employ the services of a registered planning consultant - though this can be expensive. The RTPI, who keep this register of consultants, also offer a low/no cost service through the Planning Aid network.

You can also get someone else to apply for planning permission on your behalf (such as your solicitor) - though this can incur extra fees.

Checking planning permission before buying

The ease of this depends on how organised your local planning authority is. You’re usually able to see the status of an existing application by checking on your local planning authority’s website - or by calling them.

You’ll be able to see what stage in the process it is at, and if it was rejected - you’ll be able to see why. This is valuable info that can save you from repeating someone else’s mistakes later down the line.

If you discover that the land or property was previously refused permission, this might not be a dealbreaker.  Instead, have a look at the reasons why it was refused - you may be able to propose a design that the planning authority would be happier with.

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that if the seller of the property you’re looking to buy has done any unauthorised building work, your search could alert the authorities and cause a bit of a fuss.

Buying a house without planning permission

It’s very unlikely that there would be a house on the market that wasn’t granted planning permission. The planning authority would have stepped in long before the house was completed.

What’s more common is the scenario outlined below - a property that has had additional work done without planning permission.

Buying a house that’s had work done without planning permission

It’s not uncommon to hear of conveyancing searches for a purchase turning up records of work that was done without planning permission.

Buying a house without planning permission for an extension

Buying a house with an extension without the necessary planning permission for it isn’t unusual, and doesn’t have to be a big deal. We’ll explain how...

As a general rule, if the work was done more than 4 years ago - you’re fine, as permission can’t be enforced beyond then.

If it’s been less than 4 years, in many instances it is reasonable to ask the seller to take out indemnity insurance on your behalf. After all, they technically broke the rules, so it wouldn’t be fair for you to pay the price for it. This may also be a bargaining chip to negotiate a lower price.

Some buyers make their purchase dependent on obtaining planning permission before finishing the sale - but this can inconvenience sellers and slow things down.

If you’re buying a house with an extension that does not have planning permission, make an enquiry and the expert advisors we work with will lay out all of your available options and help you safeguard yourself against the potential pitfalls.

Buying a house with a conservatory without planning permission

Conservatories are another one that tends to worry people - but they often don’t require planning permission, provided they’re small enough.

If you come across one that was built without it, you can take the same approach that you would for an unauthorised extension.

Buying a house with a loft conversion without planning permission

Planning permission is not usually needed with a loft conversion if the outside of the house remains unchanged. If the loft exceeds certain parameters, then planning permission may be needed - these include if the loft adds more than 40 cubic metres of space in a terrace house (50 in a semi or detached house), there are extensions beyond the existing roof line, balconies or platforms etc.

Can you apply for planning permission before buying a house?

Yes. You don’t need to be the owner of a property to submit an application - but if the sale falls through you won’t be able to get your money back. You should give notice to the current owner that you’re applying for planning permission before buying.

If you’re serious about the property in question, it might be a good idea to apply for planning permission before buying - simply because the application process can take so long.

Buying a plot of land without planning permission

Buying land without planning permission is not difficult, there’s an enormous amount of this land for sale, and often at a reasonable price.

What is difficult, however, is getting planning permission for this land (which would allow you to build on it). This can be a long and difficult process.

So, if you’re seriously considering buying a plot of land to build on, you should get the ball rolling on your application as soon as possible.

Can I get a mortgage on land without planning permission?

Probably not. Residential mortgages are only granted for things that are legally habitable (which doesn’t include land without planning permission). And commercial mortgages are usually only for things where there is a viable business that needs financing.

Instead, you’d likely be looking at development finance - which would allow you to go through the process of developing the land and securing planning permission - before remortgaging to a residential or commercial.

Development finance for land without planning permission is typically more expensive, as prospective lenders can see it as a risky proposition. You may need to consider a specialist lender.

If you’d like to know more about this, get in touch. The experts we work with will be able to help you.

You could consider using an ‘option’ if buying land without planning permission

Some buyers buy what is called an ‘option’ when buying a plot of land. In a nutshell, this option gives the buyer the right (not the obligation) to buy a plot of land at a certain price, by a certain date.

This allows the buyer to go through the planning permission process (including any appeals, if needed) - ensuring that, when the land is bought, it can be used for its intended process.

Depending on how long the planning permission process is predicted to take, this option process could span years and cost a lot of money.

If this is something you’re considering, it’s worth taking legal advice and considering that you’ll need to pay a fee for the option which you might not get back.

Buying land with planning permission

Land with residential planning permission is typically more expensive, but more straightforward. This is because the cost of getting planning permission is factored into the overall cost of the land itself.

Once you buy the land, you also buy the right to build whatever plan was approved by your authority - you don’t have to go through the process of applying for permission, unless you want to build something substantially different to what was originally approved.

If you change the plan, then you will have to reapply for planning permission.

Can I get a mortgage for land with planning permission?

Yes. Assuming you meet the lender’s affordability criteria, a mortgage on land with planning permission is possible - it’ll likely be a little different from a conventional residential or BTL mortgage.

Assuming you want to build a residential property to live in, you’d likely be looking at a ‘self-build mortgage’. This is a loan in which the funds are released in stages as you progress through the build.

For example, you get the first round of funds when you lay the foundations, the next when you complete the roof and the last when the house is certified habitable by the authorities.

The market for self-build mortgages is a smaller and more niche.

Planning permission can be difficult, but expert help is at hand

Whether you have planning permission in place, need bridging finance, or have another financing issue - we can help. To speak to an expert for the right advice, call Online Mortgage Advisor today on 0808 189 2301 or make an enquiry here.

Then sit back and let us do all the hard work in finding the broker with the right expertise for your circumstances.  – We don’t charge a fee and there’s absolutely no obligation or marks on your credit rating.

Updated: 25th June 2019
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FCA disclaimer

*Based on our research, the content contained in this article is accurate as of most recent time of writing. Lender criteria and policies change regularly so speak to one of the advisors we work with to confirm the most accurate up to date information. The info on the site is not tailored advice to each individual reader, and as such does not constitute financial advice. All advisors working with us are fully qualified to provide mortgage advice and work only for firms who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. They will offer any advice specific to you and your needs. Some types of buy to let mortgages are not regulated by the FCA. Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. As a mortgage is secured against your home, it may be repossessed if you do not keep up with repayments on your mortgage. Equity released from your home will also be secured against it.