UK markets open in 4 hours 8 minutes
  • NIKKEI 225

    +266.62 (+0.72%)

    +368.28 (+2.27%)

    -0.22 (-0.26%)

    -24.70 (-1.02%)
  • DOW

    +211.00 (+0.56%)
  • Bitcoin GBP

    -395.71 (-0.75%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    +84.50 (+6.44%)
  • NASDAQ Composite

    -319.49 (-2.05%)
  • UK FTSE All Share

    +6.39 (+0.15%)

How to avoid ever-changing planning permission red tape

Planning Permission
Planning Permission

If there is one certainty about Britain’s planning system, it is that nothing stays the same forever.

So far this year Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, has announced a consultation into plans to allow homeowners to build wider, taller extensions and larger loft extensions without planning permission.

Mr Gove is also keen to bring the short-let industry under control by insisting owners apply for planning permission if they wish to rent their home out for more than 90 days per year.

Homeowners who intend to navigate these shifting sands in order to upgrade their homes must take nothing for granted.


Consulting with your local council before making changes to your property is essential if you are unsure about your rights. This may be offered as a free service, but some councils do charge a few hundred pounds. You can also get advice from your builder or architect.

If a case is particularly sensitive, you may need to hire a specialist planning consultant to guide you through the process.

Spending the time and money to check your plans is well worth doing. By taking a more devil-may-care approach to planning law, you could find yourself in the same uncomfortable position as Hannah Ingram-Moore, daughter of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, and her husband, Colin.

Hannah Ingram-Moore
Hannah Ingram-Moore, the daughter of the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, attends a hearing to appeal against an order to demolish an unauthorised spa pool block built at her home - Joe Giddens/PA

The couple are in the process of demolishing a spa pool block at their property in Bedfordshire after the building was found to be significantly larger than the project Central Bedfordshire Council had approved.

One of the complications you will need to get your head around is that when it comes to planning, not all homes are equal – and neither are all neighbourhoods.

If you own a listed building, you are going to need to apply for both listed building consent and (often) planning permission too for any project which will alter the building’s “character and appearance”.

This includes replacing windows and doors, even if you plan to replace them with identical replicas. You will need permission to install double glazing, to paint the exterior of the building a fresh colour, put in a new kitchen or bathroom, build an extension or even add or just replace a fence or wall. Altering period interior features like fireplaces and panelling may also require planning permission.

There are also special rules for homes within conservation areas, although these tend to focus more on exterior changes to the property. And homes in beautiful locations – National Parks, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, World Heritage Sites, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – also have heightened regulations.

For everyone else there is greater freedom thanks to the system of permitted development, which allows homeowners to build without planning permission in certain specific circumstances. Here, Telegraph Money outlines the rules.

Building a rear extension

Building out into your back garden is a popular way to gain extra space. You can build an extension up to 3m deep behind a semi-detached, terraced, or link detached home. If the property is detached, you can go back 4m.

You can’t tack your new extension on to an existing one, though. You must base your measurements on where the back wall was in the original plans for the house, or the footprint of the house as it stood in 1948.

Extensions can be up to 4m high (around 13ft). If part of the roof is within 2m (circa 6.5ft) of your boundaries, that section will need to drop to 3m (around 10ft) high.

The extension must not protrude beyond the side of the house, cover more than half of your outside space, or come within 7m of your rear boundary.

If you want to go bigger you will need to apply for either “prior approval”, to extend up to 6m (8m for detached houses), or obtain planning permission.

If you want to build an extension using different materials from the rest of the property, you’ll also need planning permission – permitted development will only cover you if the materials match with the rest of the house.

And owners of flats and maisonettes planning to go into the garden will need planning permission.

It is important to remember that local councils can limit permitted development rights by using an “Article 4 direction”, so it’s always worth double checking whether these rules apply in your area.

Even if they do, you won’t get off scot-free in the admin department, because you will need to comply with building regulations, and get a certificate to prove it. You may also need to get party wall agreements from your neighbours, unless your home is detached.

Getting a ‘double decker’ extension

Under permitted development you could opt for a two-storey extension with the same depth restrictions as for single story projects.

Two-storey extensions must be behind the main house and the roof can’t be higher than the existing ridge and eaves. Any part of the roof which is within 2m of your neighbours’ property must be no higher than 3m.

The roof should be built to match the existing property, and obscured glass should be used in new second-storey windows.

Note that you can only build on 50pc of the total land around the property.

If you want to diverge from these measurements, you will need to apply for planning permission.

The rules for side extensions

You can build a side extension under permitted development rules, so long as it is not more than half the width of the original house. The height limit is, again, 4m, sloping to 3m close to neighbour boundaries.

If you want to build something larger, or you want a full-width wraparound extension, you will need to get planning permission.

And as with other extension projects, you will need to choose materials which match the original house.

Building a loft conversion

If you want extra bedrooms or a home office, a loft conversion is a (relatively) simple project which can add value as well as space to your home.

Unless your home is listed the interior work is unlikely to be an issue (although the loft staircase must have a head height of at least 2m), and you can add Velux-style windows to the existing roof using permitted development.

However, without planning permission, dormer windows can only be put at the back of a property, overlooking the garden. And to protect your neighbour’s privacy, any new windows at the side of your house must be glazed.

You also can’t raise the roof if your loft has low ceilings – conversions can’t be higher than the highest point of the original roof.

There are also size limits. You can build a space measuring up to 50 cubic metres for a detached or semi-detached house, or 40 cubic metres for a terrace.

If you fancy a balcony or veranda, you will need planning permission.

Furthermore, flats and maisonettes are not covered by the permitted development rules.

Converting your garage

Extra family space more important than a parking spot? You can turn your garage into a bedroom or living space without much fuss, so long as you replace the garage door with windows and a façade that’s similar to the rest of the house.

If you want to turn your garage into a self-contained granny flat, however, you will need to obtain planning permission.

Adding a porch

A handy addition to a home, and you can build a porch with a maximum footprint of 3sq/m (3m high) so long as it is set at least 2m back from the front boundary of your property.

If you want to go bigger, you will need planning permission.

Adding sheds and garden rooms

To add a garden office, a hobby room, occasional extra bedroom or just great storage, it may be possible to do so within your back garden.

There are size restrictions, of course. Outbuildings can be up to 4m tall if they have a pitched roof. If you want a flat roof it can be no more than 3m high. Any part of the roof which is within 2m of your neighbour’s boundaries is also limited to being 3m high.

A new outbuilding can be no bigger than half the original footprint of your home, and while you can put decking around it you will need planning permission if you want a veranda or raised platform.

You will also need planning permission to construct an outbuilding to the side of your home.

The rules on cladding

A fresh coat of render or some on-trend charred larch panels can make an immense difference to the kerb appeal of a property.

But you can only use permitted development if you plan to use materials similar to those already used on the house. If you want a modern refresh you will need to consult with your local planners.


The area of Britain where only 59pc of planning permissions are approved

Read more