What’s the difference between planning permission and building regs?
Whatever you build, you need to consider whether your project needs planning permission, and if it needs to meet building regs. But what’s the difference between the two?
Planning permission and building regulations are two things that most self-builders and anyone embarking on a major project will encounter. While it can seem strange that you need to sets of permissions before you start anything, there’s a clear difference between the two.
Generally speaking, planning permission concerns the size, siting and appearance of buildings – where they are placed and what they look like; while building regs deal with matters of safety and sustainability – ensuring that buildings are safe and meet requirements for things such as energy efficiency.
There are some building works you can generally undertake without having to obtain full planning permission. These are repairs, small changes and projects that are unlikely to have an impact on neighbours or involve a large carbon footprint. They fall within the scope of permitted development rights: works you’re allowed to do without needing to get planning permission. Our guide to permitted development rights explains the kind of small projects that are covered. While you may not need planning permission for permitted development projects, many have to comply with building regs.
There are lots of different types of planning permission that you might need to get for different types of project. These include:
- outline planning permission: this is a way of testing to see if a plan will be acceptable in principle to the planning authority
- full planning permission: new builds will require full planning consent, as will any big project – commercial project, rebuilding, etc
- householder permission: permission for small jobs on an existing home, like an extension, conservatory or work on outbuildings, that don’t fall within the permitted development rights ‘get out of jail’ category
- discharge/vary/remove approval conditions: you may apply to discharge, vary or remove conditions that have been put on a planning consent that has already been granted. You apply for a discharge of conditions, which is approval to go ahead, when you can demonstrate to the authority how you are going to meet the conditions attached to your project’s planning consent. You can also apply for a Section 73 application to have conditions that were put on your consent removed or changed if you think they are unreasonable or no longer relevant,
- non-material amendment: this is the process by which you apply to make minor changes to a full planning consent that has already been granted
- reserved matters: this is the process of fleshing out the missing details in an outline planning permission in the hope of turning it into full planning consent
- listed-building consent: getting approval to do work on a listed building of special historic or architectural interest
- retrospective permission: if you (or, obviously, much more likely, a ‘previous owner’) have done something to your property that shouldn’t have been done. Retrospective permission can sometimes be gained through a lawful development certificate, in which case you will need to prove the work was done more than four years ago.
Do your research
We’ve got some great tips in our piece 8 things to know about the planning process that will make the planning-approval process less stressful. Many local planning departments run ‘duty planner’ clinics where you can get advice for a small fee, but it’s worth finding out what level of advice planners are allowed to hand out before you sign up to see them there.
Councils also offer more expensive Pre-application Advice, which is particularly useful for unusual or innovative projects. It offers a chance to get personalised feedback on your project before you apply for full permission. Some swear by the communication facilitated by this costly step. Others, such as Mark Brinkley, author of the invaluable Housebuilder’s Bible, consider this a tactical mistake. He says that ‘you stand a far better chance of getting more of what you want if you choose the battleground on which to fight ie submit plans with minimal reference to the planners’.
Read your council’s design guide too. This will give you lots of information about what planners in your area are looking for and do and don’t like. The Essex Design Guide is a great example.
How to apply
When you are ready to apply for planning permission, you apply online via the Planning Portal for applications in England. Wales has its own Planning Portal, as do Northern Ireland and Scotland. You’ll need to provide all kinds of supporting documentation for your project including:
- location plan, existing and proposed site plans,
- layout plans and elevations of any existing and your proposed structure,
- design and access statement, setting out how the proposed building is an appropriate response to its site and setting, and how it will be accessed by users,
Plus, depending on the project, you might need to provide various other paperwork such as an access report, flood-risk report, isometric projections, information about the materials that are going to be used, current and past use of the site, any trees to be felled, sewage report etc. There will be a fee to pay. The Planning Portal has a Fee Calculator. One other thing that is worth doing is getting to know your neighbours and trying to get them on board with your plans, so they will be less likely to object to them.
Once you have applied for permission, the local planning authority will consider whether your plans fit into its local development plan. They will look at things like:
- the size, position, and external appearance of your build
- what infrastructure is available eg roads, drains, water supply
- what your development is for and any potential impacts on the local area
You should get a decision within eight weeks, or 13 weeks for a large or complex project. If your application is refused, you may appeal.
Planning departments are overstretched these days. This is resulting in more delayed decisions, and in more rejections. According to Mark Brinkley, around one in three applications are rejected. If you are rejected, there is nothing to stop you from appealing at the same time as making an amended proposal.
Building Regulations are minimum standards covering the design and construction of buildings. They are intended to ensure the structural soundness, safety and energy efficiency of construction, and are set out in Building Regulations 2010 and its accompanying Approved Documents. The Manual to the Building Regulations aims to present the information in a more digestible way. The information is also contained on the Planning Portal where you can also submit applications to local authority building control departments.
The Approved Documents that contain a lot of the detailed guidance in the Building Regs, are often referred to as ‘Part A’, ‘Part B’ and so on. They cover the following areas:
- Part A: Structure
- Part B: Fire safety
- Part C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture
- Part D – Toxic substances
- Part E – Sound proofing
- Part F – Ventilation
- Part G – Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency
- Part H – Drainage and waste disposal
- Part J – Combustion appliances and fuel-storage systems
- Part K – Protection from falling, collision and impact
- Part L: Conservation of fuel and power
- Part M: Access to and use of buildings
- Part N: Glazing
- Part O: Overheating
- Part P: Electrical safety
- Part Q: Security
- Part R: Infrastructure for electronic communications
- Part S: Infrastructure for charging electric vehicles
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar sets of rules of their own. If you are having your project designed by an architect, don’t worry too much about the details of these; it is part of their job to make sure they specify a structure that meets building regulations. It is your contractor’s responsibility to ensure work is done to the required standard, with advice from your building inspector.
As well as new builds, you might need Building Control sign-off for major home-improvement projects, such as replacing a fuse box, installing a new bathroom, replacing doors and windows, replacing a roof, installing a new heating system (except in an emergency). With lots of these jobs, you can avoid getting a building inspector involved by using a tradesperson registered with one of the ‘competent person’ schemes.
There are lots of smaller jobs that are exempt from building control: things like routine maintenance and repairs, new fences and boundary walls, replacing less than 25% of a building fabric like-for-like, replacing baths or sinks with similar. Other small jobs, such as installing a satellite dishes, putting up a shed, adding a conservatory or porch are except in some circumstances and not in others. As with the planning process, it’s complicated.
The Building Control process
There are three different routes to get sign-off on a project that needs Building Control approval:
- via your local authority’s Building Control department
- via a private-sector building inspector
- using a tradesperson who is registered as a ‘competent person’ to do the work
There are two ways to apply for building regs permission:
- a full plans application: the route recommended for larger projects. You provide plans, calculations, and specifications for Building Control to approve before you start work
- a building notice: this is a slightly riskier route, you inform the inspector about the work you are going to do but don’t submit full plans. The application is accepted once the work has been approved on site
Either way, you will be given a schedule of inspection visits for the building inspector (also known as building control surveyor or district surveyor) to come and check the work. Once the work is complete to the building inspector’s satisfaction, you will be given a certificate of completion.
So, as you can see, securing planning permission and meeting building regs are two entirely separate processes. Both of which you will need to engage with if you are going to take on a self-build project.