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Which UK Planning Laws Could Impact Your Self-Build?

UK planning legislation can be somewhat daunting for self-builders approaching it for the first time, with numerous pieces of legislation to navigate.

To help simplify this guidance and aid you in obtaining that all-important permission for your project, we've put together this guide on the various national and local laws that could impact on your plans.

Lay of the Land

Britain's planning system forms part of English land law, which deals with property ownership and usage. It seeks to promote sustainable economic development and a better environment.

Planning laws are devolved each country in the UK, meaning that you'll have to abide by different rules depending on where you're planning to situate your self-build project.

The main pieces of legislation affecting self-build planning include:

England and Wales

The Town and Country Planning Act (1990)
The Compulsory Purchase Act (2004)
The Planning Act 2008
The Localism Act (2011)
The National Planning Policy Framework (2012)


The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act (1997)
The Planning, etc (Scotland) Act (2006)

Northern Ireland

The Planning (Northern Ireland) Order (1991)

Just to make things a bit more confusing, many other disparate regulations and acts of parliament may also impact on self-build planning and some laws apply nation-wide.

Although steps have been taken to simplify the process in recent years, there is still myriad legislation to take into account when applying for planning permission and it can be downright mystifying for non-professionals.

When is planning permission required?

In terms of residential self-build projects, planning permission is needed for all new residences, as well as many kinds of alterations to existing properties. And although planning permission can place constraints on how residences are constructed, it shouldn't be confused with Building Regulations, which is a completely separate consideration.

Local and national government's use of planning legislation seeks to regulate the impact of new builds on the local area and its infrastructure, as well as their aesthetics.

Neighbourhood and Local Plans

There's a balance between the roles of central and local government when it comes to planning and the passing of the Localism Act (2011) marked a major change in this equilibrium.

It abolished regional strategies in favour of devolving decision-making powers into the hands of the communities and councils that would be affected by them – introducing neighbourhood planning and the community right to build to facilitate these aims.

The act sought to involve communities in the planning process through the creation of Neighbourhood Plans, which provide a framework for the types of development that are permitted in a given area.

These can deal with wide-range of issues, such as housing, heritage and transport, as well as myriad factors relating to the development of land and the relevant economic, social and environmental issues.

Neighbourhood Plans don't give local authorities a free hand in all things planning, however, and they must undergo public consultation and pass independent examination to ensure they're compliant with pertinent legislation (or require any amendments to ensure compliance) before being subject to a referendum conducted by residents in the area.

The plan must receive approval from at least 50 per cent of those voting in the referendum before the local authority is able to legally enforce it.

Local plans follow a similar path, but are typically prepared by the local authority's planning body. These are then submitted for consultation ahead of examination by independent inspectors from the Planning Inspectorate and if successful, are adopted, with a freely-available copy published online.

Again – local authorities are not given free reign with the contents of their plans and they must be verified as being:

• Positively prepared
• Justified
• Effective
• Consistent with National Policy, including the National Planning Policy Framework.


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In 2002, the government took the progressive step of moving planning applications and related information online with the launch of the Planning Portal.

As well as letting you submit applications online, the website enables you to view information on Building Regulations and purchase site location plans.

You can also review all planning applications in your local area, which can provide invaluable intelligence on which have succeeded and why, as well as presenting the grounds on which prior applications have failed.

While this is undoubtedly a vast improvement on having to arduously write out and submit applications in paper form, it's also provided all participants – which includes potential objectors – with easy access to planning materials online.

National Planning Policy Framework

First published in 2012, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sought to consolidate the reams of Planning Policy Statements and guidance notes into one, relatively-straightforward and concise document (although it still runs for 60-plus pages).

Announcing the launch of the plan then-planning minister Greg Clark highlighted key aspects of the document, including:

• Underlining the importance of local plans as the 'keystone' of the planning regime
• Enshrined the importance of the balance between sustainable development, environmental and economic concerns
• Highlighted the importance of town centres
• Creating a buffer of housing supply
• Protecting residential gardens and playing fields.

Localism and the Housing Crisis

The substantial under-supply of housing in the UK has hit the headlines of late, with much of the blame laid at the feet of development-averse local authorities.

As such, central government has moved to take a firmer hand – pushing through housing applications on appeal and cracking down on local authorities that fail to factor in a five-year plan for housing supply in their areas.

New Housing Legislation

In response to the growing crisis, the government unveiled a raft of new measures earlier this year with a view to stimulating housing growth. Among the announcements was the introduction of a 'Right to Build' – which is particularly pertinent for self-builders.

"[Right to Build] will also help increase housing supply and diversify the housing sector by giving people the right to be allocated land with planning permission for them to self-build or commission a local builder to build a home. Self-build delivers a majority of homes in many other countries and can act as a boost to smaller and medium sized builders," said the Department for Communities and Local Government.

In practice, this will force councils to identify and release shovel-ready plots, so that self-builders won't have to wait years before they're able to commence work.

Fertile Environment

Despite the plethora of legislation to contend with, the acute lack of housing in the UK means that now is a fairly favourable time to pursue a self-build project, with local authorities being prompted to encourage this sort of development.

However, we'd always advise consulting with a professional before ploughing ahead with plans, as they'll be able to provide tailored, expert advice on the particulars of your project.


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