While building your own home is an exciting prospect, navigating the complexities of the British planning process can be a real turn-off for many prospective self-builders. However planning doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Steve Mansour, Group CEO at CRL, talks you through the process and explains the types of permissions a self-build project will need.
With government moves to encourage self-build and the influx of TV programmes like Grand Designs the UK public’s desire to construct their own homes has literally gone through the roof.
The appetite for self-build is clear – with around 12,000 new homes (or between 7-10 per cent of the UK’s new housing stock) thought to be constructed in this way every year. Support for self-build projects has also been one of the government’s key housing initiatives, making loans available to community groups and releasing public land to accommodate new houses.
An introduction to self-build planning
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be an architect or qualified designer yourself, after you’ve found a suitable plot of land (although you don’t necessarily need to have bought it to gain planning permissions), you’ll need to hire in some professionals.
Some self-builders opt to use a project manager as a way to run the entire project at arm’s length, while others opt to pick architects, designs and surveyors themselves.
This year the new Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) were introduced and came into force on the 6 April 2015. There is now a requirement for domestic clients to understand the Health and Safety requirements of a project.
However, their duties as a client are normally transferred to the contractor, on a single contractor project; or the principal contractor, on a project involving more than one contractor. However, the domestic client can choose to have a written agreement with the principal designer to carry out the client duties. So having a professional team to guide you through the planning process is essential.
Whatever route you go down, it’s in your best interest to kick off the planning process as soon as you can. Consulting with the local authority’s planning department – either yourself or by proxy – is a great way to determine what you will, and won’t, be able to do.
Your local planning department is likely to have some preliminary guidance on their website, if not a full copy of the ‘Local Plan’ that informs planning constraints in the area.
However, councils also offer more formal pre-application advice for a fee, although the cost – and quality – of this can differ greatly from authority to authority. This should hopefully give you a better idea of the key issues that may arise and take steps to sidestep or tackle these as necessary.
This guidance can be used to inform your design and when you’re happy with the plans, you can formally submit them for planning approval. This will typically cost under £200, but can differ depending on where your new home is to be situated.
While central government has set a target of eight weeks for planning applications to be assessed, some councils are better than others. However, there are financial incentives in place to encourage this and even the worst performers shouldn’t make you wait an onerous length of time for a response.
You will be able to track the progress of your application through the local authority’s website and find out if any problems have been identified. Local planners are highly risk averse and in some cases it can be worth withdrawing and re-submitting an application that encounters difficulties, rather than waiting for refusal.
However, we’d always advise consulting with a professional, if possible, before making any rash decisions regarding your application.
Refusal and appeals
Having your self-build plans refused by a local authority can jeopardise the chances of your project ever coming to fruition in its current form. Given the increasing pressure local planners are under, previous refusals can fuel future ones – making a proposed site untenable in the eyes of the local authority.
You can however appeal to the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Planning Inspectorate if you think the application has been refused out of hand.
This comes with its own set of complications and you’re likely to have to wait for at least a year for a response after lodging your appeal. It is well worth talking to a professional consultant before deciding how to handle rejection.
If everything goes smoothly and you’re granted permission without any constraints – the paperwork, unfortunately, doesn’t end there.
You will still need to ensure the project adheres to UK Building Regulations, a code which governs the safety and structural integrity of a proposed building.
Unlike planning permission – Building Regulations are less open to interpretation and your project will succeed or fail based on whether it meets their criteria or not. You can find out more about these – and how to go about gaining approval – at the government’s planning portal at: www.planningportal.gov.uk
Finally as someone who sees successful self-build projects come to fruition regularly, I hope you are not deterred from building your own home. Constructing your own home is an exciting, and a highly rewarding, project and if the above guidelines are followed should be a relatively smooth process.