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. It is always best to discuss your plans with the local planning authority before starting work. The main responsibility for planning is vested in the local planning authority – normally the local council planning department.

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, 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.

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.

Top tips for making a planning application are:

  • Write an outline of your main ideas/plans;
  • Discuss your options with legal and other professional advisers;
  • Appoint surveyors/architects to help draw up development plans in more detail;
  • Arrange to meet a planning officer for an informal discussion of your plans;
  • Ask the planning officer whether there is a reasonable chance of getting planning permission;
  • Ask the planning officer about any potential problems, such as utilities installations, roads, noise, traffic etc.;
  • For large-scale or complex developments, it may be best to apply for outline planning permission in order to establish whether the scale and nature of a proposed development would be acceptable to the local planning authority, before a fully detailed proposal is put forward;
  • Planning applications can be made online or on paper; and
  • Always seek professional advice before proceeding.

See the Planning Portal, English Heritage and Communities and Local Government websites for further information.


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