Planning Law Basics

Whether you are planning to refurbish and sell a house or to construct a whole new apartment block, almost all your plans will be governed by planning laws and any local restrictions. Planning restrictions are more stringent in conservation areas, for instance, and for listed buildings.

Before committing to any significant level of investment, it is important, therefore, to take professional advice on how planning laws and other restrictions operate in the area you have in mind. Penalties for not complying with planning rules can be severe, and can include an order to demolish the work or restore the building or land to its pre-development state. The main responsibility for planning is vested in the local planning authority – normally the local council planning department. It is always best to discuss your plans with them before submitting them for approval.

Restrictions on building and construction work are far more comprehensive and detailed than planning laws, however. Building Regulations, for instance, must also be taken into account. These are the rules governing the standard for design and construction of buildings. Other permissions and restrictions that may apply relate to the following:

  • Covenants and ‘private’ rights;
  • Listed buildings;
  • Conservation areas;
  • Rights of way;
  • Ancient monuments;
  • Licensed sites;
  • Protected species;
  • Trees and hedgerows; and
  • Party wall restrictions.

Planning permission does not include, for instance, any private permissions that may be required or other permissions under an existing covenant. Your local planning authority would not be involved in private rights, such as the right to light or an easement over the property (such as a neighbour's right of way) and so any such rights would need to be checked separately. Neither would the authority be involved, for instance, in any issue relating to a covenant or easement over your property.

If you are planning a development that might interfere with a protected species, such as bats, or if you are contemplating the removal of any trees or hedgerows, restrictions need to be thoroughly considered prior to any investment being made. Again, the best approach is to seek qualified professional advice. Just because you have received planning consent for a change of use for example, that does not mean that building regulations will not be necessary. For example, the owners of a bed and breakfast who wished to return it to a residential property were shocked to discover their council insisted on applying the building regulations which apply for the conversion of commercial premises to residential.

Restrictions are far more onerous in conservation areas. There are currently over 9,000 conservation areas in England and new conservation areas may be designated by any local authority or, in London, by English Heritage in consultation with London boroughs.

Changes contained in the Growth and Infrastructure Act, which became law in 2013, are designed to make obtaining planning permission easier and remove the need for planning consent for some minor developments. The Act also places some restrictions on the ability of local residents to apply for land to be designated a ‘village green’ (which has the effect of preventing it from being developed).

Government Planning Portal