Improving a property

Closeup Of Construction People With Blue Security HelmetCan I make changes to a building on my property?

For certain changes to a building, you may need planning permission from your local authority.

You will normally need planning permission to:

  • construct a new building
  • make a major change to a building, such as building a loft or a garage
  • change the usage of a property from one type of usage to another (known as a use class)

When is planning permission not required?

You will not need to apply for planning permission if the change to a building would be covered under permitted development rights. These are general planning permissions automatically granted by Parliament rather than the local authority.

Examples of permitted development rights include:

  • minor building works and developments that are unlikely to have much effect on neighbours or the surrounding environment, such as a boundary wall below a certain height and extensions up to a certain distance (within the curtilage)
  • a change of land or building use that is within the same use class

Not all permitted development rights that apply to houses are available for flats and maisonettes. There are also different requirements if the property is a listed building.

In some ‘designated areas’ of the country, permitted development rights are more restricted. You will need planning permission for certain types of work which would not usually need planning permission, such as:

  • in a Conservation Area,
  • near a National Park
  • in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • on Green Belt land

You do need planning permission to carry out maintenance of a building.

How do I apply for planning permission?

Before you begin any work, you should check with your local authority even where the work may be a permitted development. Your local authority should be able to advise you on whether or not you need planning permission. You must submit your planning application to your local authority by post oronline at the UK Government's Planning Portal.

When your local authority receives your application, some of the things they will consider are:

  • the purpose of the development
  • how your development would affect the surrounding area, such as the impact on traffic
  • the number, size, layout, siting and external appearance of building(s)
  • any landscaping needs
  • the infrastructure available, for example, roads and water supply

You should hear whether your application for planning permission is approved or rejected within eight weeks. But if the application is for work that is unusually large or complex, the time limit in England is 13 weeks. If you do not receive a decision within these time limits, you may be able to appeal.

How do I appeal the decision?

You can appeal against the decision if the local authority:

  • rejects your application
  • grants you permission but with conditions
  • refuses to change or remove a condition on the permission granted
  • serves you with an enforcement notice for not getting planning permission for certain works
  • does not make a decision on the application within the set time limits and does not get your written consent to change the deadline

The appeals process may last several months and is generally seen as a last resort. But if you choose to appeal, there is a deadline of six months from the date of the local authority’s decision letter.

But if you have not received a decision on your application within the set time limits and you have not agreed in writing for that period to be extended, you have six months from the date the decision should have been made to lodge an appeal.

However, it may be quicker to speak with the local authority about whether changes to your application would make it more acceptable. Also, if there was no decision, you may be able to find out when the application could be decided. Once you lodgean appeal, your application will be out of the local authority's hands.

If the local authority has rejected your application, and they have advised that altering your plans might make a difference, you may be able to submit another application with modified plans free of charge within 12 months of the decision on your first application.

How long is planning permission valid?

If you have been granted planning permission, you will normally have three years from the date it is granted to begin the proposed work. If you have not started or are unable to start the work by then, you will probably need to reapply or apply to extend the permission before it expires.

What is a party wall?

A party wall is a wall that you share with your neighbours.

The main types of party walls are:

  • a wall standing on the land of two (or more) owners and forming part of a building
  • a wall standing on the land of two owners but not forming part of a building, such as a garden wall (except a timber fence)
  • a wall standing on one owner’s land but used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings

What if I want to carry out work that affects a party wall?

There is a piece of legislation covering this area known as the ‘Party Walls etc Act 1996’. This act has different requirements to building regulations and planning permission and primarily deals with:

  • new building on or at the boundary of 2 properties, for example, building a new wall
  • any developments concerning an existing party wall or party structure, for example, knocking down and rebuilding a wall, or making the existing one taller, shorter or deeper
  • digging near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings

The Party Walls Act provides an outline for any issues relating to party walls, boundary walls and excavations adjoining neighbouring buildings.

One of the most important things to consider before you can any start any works covered by the Act is that you must give a party wall notice in writing to all adjoining owners that will be affected by the works. An adjoining owner may be a freeholder or a leaseholder and under the Act, this may include any properties within a relevant distance that is not actually adjoining.

If you start work on a party wall without properly serving a notice, the adjoining owner may seek a court injunction to prevent you from carrying on further with the works.

It is advisable to give the notice at least two months before the proposed starting date of any works; but you should also not give the notice too early, because it is only valid for one year.

Depending on your relations with your neighbours, you may have already informally spoken to them about your plans, and this could possibly make it quicker to receive a response when you give them the notice. But, the adjoining owners have fourteen days to:

  • Give their written consent
  • Refuse to give their consent or;
  • Fail to respond

If an adjoining owner fails to respond or refuses to give consent, then it would be classed as a dispute. The best way to settle the dispute is to have a friendly discussion with the neighbour, making sure that any agreements that you make are in writing.

But if you cannot reach an agreement, the Act provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. This involves appointing a surveyor – both of you must agree - who will draw up an ‘award’ laying out rules your builder will have to follow. This may include restrictions on when and how the party wall works should be carried out and any additional works needed to protect your neighbour's property. The award may also allow your builder to legally trespass on your neighbour's property if the surveyors deem it necessary to carry out the party wall works.

It is possible for both you and your neighbour to appoint a surveyor to draw up the award together. The two surveyors will then appoint a third surveyor in case they cannot reach an agreement.

If your neighbour fails to appoint a surveyor, you can appoint one on their behalf. But you cannot appoint your surveyor or anyone, such as an architect, involved with your project, so that the award may be seen as fair. Your surveyor should be able to advise on appointing a surveyor on behalf of your neighbour.

The surveyor’s award is final unless it is cancelled or modified by a County Court on appeal. Any appeal will need to be made within 14 days of the award being given.

You will usually pay all costs associated with drawing up the award if the works are solely for your benefit.

Further information

The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued a detailed and free explanatory guide about the Party Walls Act (PDF).*

There is also information about party walls available from Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) through their website.

*Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v2.0.

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