IMPROVING or extending your home is often cheaper than moving house entirely – but getting planning permission can put many people off.
Recent research from Santander found that UK homeowners applied for more than 60,000 home extensions and conversions during the first coronavirus lockdown, and the trend has only continued.
More time spent at home in Covid lockdowns prompted two in five families to bring forward their home improvement plans, the research found.
But doing major work to your home, such as an extension, can be time consuming and complicated.
Depending on the scale of the work, it is often necessary to apply to your local council for planning permission.
However, if you are willing to work within certain limits, there are things you can do without having to apply for planning permission at all.
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Mark Morris, planning consultant at Urbanist Architecture, which specialises in helping people build and improve homes, said taking advantage of so-called permitted development rights can help you dodge having to formally apply for permission to build.
What are permitted development rights?
Permitted development rights are rules which apply to homes in England and allow improvement or extension without the need to apply for planning permission.
As well as allowing developers to change buildings such as offices into homes, they allow homeowners to build small extensions.
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Mark said: “Often you get more via permitted development than through the planning application process.
"That's because some councils have very restrictive rules about people extending their homes, but the permitted development rights apply across all of England.”
Who can use them?
“If you own a house – and it has to be a whole house – then permitted development rights probably apply to you,” Mark said.
The most common exceptions to this are some housing estates built from the 1980s onwards.
Some of these have clauses in the deeds which exclude permitted development rights.
Homes in protected areas such as an area of outstanding natural beauty are also likely to be excluded.
“If particular conservation rules apply to the area in which you live, you will need to check the rules first,” said Mark.
And if you live in a flat, even a ground floor flat, the rules don’t apply.
What can I build?
If you live in a terraced house or a semi-detached house, permitted development rights allow you to extend your home by three metres outwards at the back, and by no more than four metres in height in a single storey.
If you live in a detached house, you can go four metres back and four metres high.
“In design terms, you can't do something too interesting or creative though,” Mark said.
“You can have bifold or sliding doors at the back, but the new structure needs to look like it belongs to the rest of the house.
“But as long as it’s ok in terms of size and appearance, you can just get on and build it.”
Other home improvements that you can do under permitted development rights include:
- Building a porch less than three metres square
- Changes of use, such as loft conversions, garage conversions and basement conversion
- Internal alterations, such as knocking down internal walls
- Installing energy generating equipment such as solar panels (but not wind turbines)
- Installing satellite dishes and erecting antenna
- Adding rooflights or dormer windows
Is there a limit on what I can do?
All permitted development requirements apply to the house as it was originally built.
Or, if it is an old house, how it stood on July 1, 1948.
Any space added by previous owners of the house counts towards your permitted development allocation – so you don’t wipe the slate clean when you buy a new house.
That means if you buy a home that's already been extended, you can't extend further on that without permission.
What if I want to go bigger?
If you consult your neighbours though, you can double the size of the extension.
"So that's six metres for a terraced or semi-detached house, and eight metres for detached,” Mark explained.
This isn’t planning permission, but you do need to go to your council so it can check your plans aren’t disruptive.
Neighbours have 21 days to object, and your local authority then has a further 21 days to give the go-ahead.
After that, you will receive a “lawful development certificate”, which can take up to eight weeks to be issued and costs £103, at which point you can begin your larger extension project.
“People usually object because you are interfering with something which affects them though, usually their windows,” Mark said.
“It might be that they will lose some light, in which case you may have to think again.
“But if your neighbours already have a big extension, then you will probably be allowed to do it.”
Should I check what I’m doing is ok?
Even if you are only building a small extension, it might be worth getting it signed off first.
“We advise people to check with their council first, and it will just take a look at the plans and dimensions,” said Mark.
There is no legal obligation to do this, but it saves any problems later.
“The advantage is that you then have documentation for the extension which can be helpful if you later sell the house,” he said.
To do this, you go through a similar process to the one for larger extensions, and your “lawful development certificate” would be your proof that your plans are fine.
You can find out which local authority you need to go to here.
What happens if I get it wrong?
“If you don't follow the rules, ultimately the council could ask you to demolish what you have built,” Mark said.
“That is why it needs to be very carefully done.”
You could also end up upsetting your neighbours and find yourself in a spat with them.
Mark suggested consulting an architect to make sure your dimensions are correct, and reputable builders who will understand the rules and will have done similar projects.
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