How can I get planning permission for an eco-building or renovation?

Obtaining planning permission can be complicated, and will depend on the area in which you're building and what rules they have in place. Because of this, it's not possible to be specific about what types of building technique may be more likely to get permission, or for us to give very detailed advice here.

However, this page gives some tips on how to proceed. To give yourself the best chance of getting planning consent for a new build or renovation project you will need to do a certain amount of research before beginning the application process. For more detailed advice, the book How to get Planning Permission, sold in our online shop, may be useful to you.

Remember the distinction between planning permission, which is concerned with the size and appearance of the building, and building control, which regulates construction: materials, drainage, fire protection, etc.

Using alternative building methods:

Your ability to choose the method by which you build or extend a house or outbuildings will be determined by where your building plot is. In a Conservation Area, National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty you may be restricted to building in the local vernacular - which might be stone or brick, and with a particular roof finish.

In some areas this may be an advantage if you want to build sustainably; for example, in Devon there are a lot of traditional cob buildings (a form of vernacular earth building), as well as some beautiful new ones. A timber building may fit well with the traditional style in many places as well.

If your council has a Sustainability Plan this may be of help in gaining permission for a sustainable, environmentally friendly building. Vernacular building styles are often environmentally friendly in terms of building materials (using lime mortar rather than cement, for example), but it can be more difficult to obtain permission to install measures such as solar panels, high-efficiency glazing, or insulation if your building is in a conservation area or listed.

It may help to find examples of similar buildings in your area (or even similar places elsewhere in the UK) and talk to the owners about how they gained permission for their project and any problems they had to overcome.

Steps to take on the way submitting an application:

  • Get contact details for the relevant planning officer from your local council. If you're within the boundaries of a National Park, the council will tell you if the Park Authority controls planning.
  • Your planning authority will have development plans for the area, designating the type of development allowed (whether residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial). Find the Local Plan and look up the design statements it gives about requirements for new buildings, or the use of local materials on vernacular buildings, or whatever else is relevant to your project.
  • Ask the planning office if there are permitted development rights applicable to your area, if the site is in a Conservation Area, and what other restrictions might be placed on any building plans (see below for more).
  • Talk to your neighbours about your plans and make sure that they're aware of what you want to do. Talking things through with them can prevent objections coming to light later in the process, and so help to avoid delays, extra expense or even the failure of an application.
  • Put together your preliminary sketches and make an appointment to discuss your plans with the planning officer. Talking the project through with them before putting in a full application should save you time and money, as likely problems or hitches can be identified and addressed.

Then submit your outline or full planning application, and wait for approval before starting any work. There will be a period of notice to allow for interested parties to place any comments/objections to your plans. Then, with a recommendation for either approval or refusal from the planning officer, it will proceed to the council planning committee for final approval. If the application fails, you can appeal.

Restrictions that may apply to renovation, alteration or new build projects:

  • Planning law covers land use as well as buildings. If you wish to change the way in which land is used (e.g. from field to garden, or garden to retail nursery) then you may need planning permission.
  • Legal objections: consult your solicitor to ensure that there are no covenants or other restrictions listed on your property deeds - for example: restricting further building for a number of years, or ongoing rights of access.
  • Local restrictions: in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park, a Site of Special Scientific Interest or a Conservation Area, your ability to make alterations to your property or land use may be limited. These restrictions generally override 'permitted development' rights that otherwise apply to some building work (for example when adding a conservatory, porch or garages).
  • Listed buildings: if your property is a listed building Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II you will need to apply for listed buildings consent in addition to planning permission.
  • Public utilities: alterations affecting drains, sewers or public access (such as footpaths) will require consultation with the council.
  • Protected species: if your property is home to a legally protected species, such as bats or owls, you'll need to check with your planning authority about approving any works that may disturb them.
  • Tree Preservation Orders: these may control the extent to which you can fell or even prune a tree. Trees in conservation areas are usually protected and you will need to supply at least six weeks’ notice before working on them.

Contacts

Chapter 7 - http://www.tlio.org.uk/chapter7 - 01297 561359
  Campaigns for access to land through environmentally sound planning. Publish a DIY Planning Handbook and other publications. Can give free advice about planning for sustainable projects.
Lammas Project & Eco-village - http://lammas.org.uk/planning/ -
  Their website has information about how they gained planning permission under 'Low-impact Development' rules, and also about the 'One Planet Development' policy now in place in Wales.
Planning Aid (England) - http://www.rtpi.org.uk/planning-aid - 0330 123 9244
  Free professional planning advice on the website and via the advice line - which offers up to fifteen minutes of free, general planning advice. They can give further advice in some cases.
Planning Aid Scotland - http://pas.org.uk/ - 0845 603 7602
  Free, impartial, independent, and professional planning advice service (subject to eligibility) about the planning system in Scotland.
Planning Aid Wales - http://www.planningaidwales.org.uk - 02920 625000 (10 to 1.30, Mon to Thurs)
  Offers a free Helpline service to assist eligible (see website) members of the public and community groups needing help with a planning matter. Website also has lots of free advice.
The Planning Portal - http://www.planningportal.gov.uk -
  The UK Government's online planning and building regulations resource for England and Wales. Advice on whether you need planning, how to apply, and details of Local Development Plans and contacts.
Town and Country Planning Association - http://www.tcpa.org.uk - 020 7930 8903
  Campaigns for the reform of the UK planning system to promote public participation and sustainable development. Various resources on the website.

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