Is your home ready for a post-lockdown refresh? Here are the large projects you can tackle right away...

For many of us, the past year has seen our homes work harder than ever before.

You may have had to create a pop-up office to work from, re-purpose rooms to accommodate the return of adult children, or grapple with home-schooling at the kitchen table.

You may be thinking about what the ‘new normal’ looks like for your home, and asking yourself whether you need a more permanent working from home (WFH) solution, a different configuration of space – or just a change of scenery. 

Whatever your motivations for wanting to refresh your home, you may be surprised to learn there are several ways you can enhance or extend without seeking full planning permission. 

You can do this under what are known as permitted development rights. Here we take a closer look.

What are permitted development rights?

These fast-track rules created by the government allow a host of alterations without the hassle of having to make a full planning application.

For many, the idea of being able to extend or renovate without having to go through a lengthy planning process may sound very appealing - given the potential to save both time and money - but it’s important to note that permitted development rights are subject to a raft of conditions and limitations.

Some homes, including flats, maisonettes, listed buildings and certain new developments are excluded from the permitted development scheme.

Rights may also be restricted in parts of the UK known as ‘designated areas.’ These include conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks, the Broads, and World Heritage sites.

There are height restrictions that cannot be exceeded, wherever you live, and your project will need to adhere to UK building regulations, party wall matters and the ‘right to light.’

If you’re unsure about whether you need full planning permission, you should always contact your local planning authority before starting a new project to check. 

When do I need to contact the local planning authority?

Generally speaking, you only need to contact the local planning authority before carrying out work under the permitted development scheme in certain situations:

1. If ‘prior approval’ is required

Prior approval is a formal submission to your local planning authority, seeking confirmation that specified parts of a development are acceptable, before work can commence.

In a small number of cases, you may be required to get prior approval from a local planning authority before carrying out a permitted development. For example, if you're planning to build a large rear extension.

The good news is, the statutory requirements for prior approval are much less prescriptive than those relating to full planning applications. So, in theory at least, prior approval should be a ‘light-touch’ process. 

2. If the 'neighbour consultation scheme' applies

The neighbour consultation scheme, also known as prior notification, requires a 21 day period where the neighbours to the property in question have the right to object (with valid reasoning) as to why an extension must not be built. After this, the local authority have a further 21 days to decide whether the build can go ahead.

Whether you need to tell your neighbours about your plans will depend on the type of work you plan on carrying out.

If, for example, you want to build a large single storey rear extension to your house under permitted development rights, you will need to notify the local planning authority, which will then consult the adjoining neighbours on your behalf and any impacts on them will be taken into consideration.

If any objections are raised, the local planning authority will make a decision as to whether the impact is acceptable – and if the work can proceed.

3. If the local planning authority has a Community Infrastructure Levy in place

A Community Infrastructure Levy is a charge which can be levied by local authorities on new developments in their area.

The levy requires developers to contact the planning authority before carrying out a permitted development.

If your local authority has one in place, you'll need to follow the rules carefully, as failure to do this may result in them imposing a surcharge on the developer.

So what can I actually do to my home without needing formal planning permission?

Now we’ve got all the legal speak out the way, let’s take a closer look at the work you might want to carry out.

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1. Add a ground-floor rear or side extension

Rear extensions

The trend for all-in-one living spaces continues. The open-plan kitchen-diner solution is so popular because it creates a spacious, light-filled family hub room.

Under the permitted development scheme, you can build a single storey rear extension to your home. However, most extensions of properties will still require Building Regulations approval. A planning consultant or architect can help with the smooth running of your extension project, and guide you through the building regulation requirements. 

If your property is on ‘designated land’ (that includes national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, The Broads or World Heritage sites), you can build an extension up to four metres long for a detached house and three metres long for any other house. 

If your home isn't on designated land, you can build a single-storey rear extension up to eight metres long for a detached house, or six metres long for any other house, subject to ‘prior approval’.

The extension must not take up more than 50% of the area of land around the original house, and must be less than four metres in height (or less than three metres high if it's within two metres of a property boundary).

The building materials used must be similar to those used in the existing house.

Side extensions

If you have a dead space or an alley area beside your house, you can build a side return extension to maximise indoor space and bring in light. 

You can build a single storey side extension without having to get planning permission, as long as the extension doesn't exceed four metres in height (or three metres in height if it's within two metres of a property boundary). 

If you live on designated land however, your side extension will require planning permission.

The extension can only measure up to half the width of the original house and similar building materials to the existing property must be used.

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2. Convert your loft

The dusty, dark disused space at the top of your house could be transformed into a light-filled, calm retreat when your home life gets too chaotic. Alternatively, where better to set up a quiet, airy home office, or en-suite guest room?

A loft conversion is a great solution for adding more space and value to your home without extending the footprint. 

Under permitted development rights, you can add 50 cubic metres of roof space for detached and semi-detached houses, or 40 cubic metres for terraced houses.

That said, you will need to get planning permission if your plans exceed certain limits and conditions, such as extending or altering the roof space beyond its current structure.

The materials used must be similar in appearance to the existing house, and the conversion must not exceed the height of the existing roof. 

Side-facing windows must be obscure-glazed and windows must be non-opening if less than 1.7m from the floor of the room in which they are installed. 

3. Repurpose your garage

Many homeowners do not actually keep their car in the garage. 

In fact, research by Sainsbury’s Insurance reveals that fewer than a quarter of garage owners use this space to park their car. In many cases, the more likely scenario is that garages are filled with junk and referred to as a ‘workshop’ (despite very little actual ‘work’ taking place in there).

A garage conversion is a great project if you want a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ solution to your lack of space. It could be the perfect place for a study or home office, a children’s playroom – or even a home gym. Equally, if your garage is attached to your house, you could turn it into a new kitchen or spare bedroom. 

As garage conversions are all about making use of the space you already have (as opposed to building new rooms), you're unlikely to need full planning permission, most garage conversions can be done under permitted development rights. 

However, building regulations mean that if you’re converting the space, or part of it, into an inhabited area, you’ll need building regs approval from your local authority.

If you're garage is detached and you want to convert it into a bedroom or small annexe, full planning permission will be required.

The materials used will need to be similar to those in the existing house. 

4. Build a garden room

Many people dream of building a garden room. The good news is, you don't have to live out in the wilderness to live the dream.   

A large shed, garden room or ‘log cabin’ with fixtures and fittings can be built in your garden for your ‘boomerang children’ to camp out in (temporarily, of course).

Or you could use your timber dwelling as a home office to enable you to fully separate home and work life. There are some great kits out there for under £10,000. But there will be building costs to add on top.

Most garden rooms don't require planning permission. They're classed as outbuildings, so you're allowed to build one as long as you comply with certain rules:

  • Your garden room or log cabin mustn't be in front of your home.

  • The total area of all extensions, sheds and outbuildings around your home mustn't cover more than 50% of the total area of land around your house.

  • The garden room must be single storey and less than three metres high (or four metres with a dual-pitched roof). If it’s within two metres of your boundary, the maximum height is 2.5 metres.

  • The garden room mustn't have a balcony, veranda or raised platform.

Using your garden room as an incidental office for yourself is likely to fall within permitted development rights. However, if you want to use your garden room as an office for regular client meetings, or as self-contained living accommodation, you'll need to ask for planning permission, as this could have an impact on the local neighbourhood.

Any electrics and plumbing installed into your garden room will need to comply with planning regulations.

If you intend to use your garden room for activities you might normally do in your main home, such as showering or cooking, you may need to apply for planning permission.

Garden rooms can be a real asset to a home and have leapt up the priority list for buyers, potentially adding a decent premium to your house price, too. Just check with your local authority if you want to fit yours with all the mod cons.

5. Attach a lean-to conservatory

Conservatories do not have to be white, constructed from UPVC and cluttered with wicker furniture.

Lean-to conservatories are contemporary, sleek, and ideal for smaller houses. 

This can be a great option for times when you need a little extra light and space – without taking too much of the garden. 

As with other extensions under the permitted development scheme, building regulations approval will be required and certain guidelines must be followed:

  • Only half the area of land around the original house can be covered, and the extension cannot be higher than the highest part of the existing roof. 

  • If the extension comes within two metres of the boundary, the height must be less than three metres. 

  • If the work adds more than 100 square metres of floor space, it may be liable for a charge under the Community Infrastructure Levy. 

Use an architect

As there are still a lot of boxes that need to be ticked when carrying out renovations or extensions under the permitted development scheme (even though formal planning permission is not required), it could be worth your while using an architect to help you with your drawings and plans. 

Depending on the nature of the work, you may also want to seek professional help with things such as building regulations, party wall matters – and finding the right builders and contractors for the job. 

*Lead image courtesy of Snuggeries. 

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