What is permitted development? Charlie Luxton shares his advice

What can you do without planning permission?

The principle of permitted development (or PD) rights is simple enough: they allow certain changes to be made to a home without the need of planning permission.

Unfortunately, they were drafted by civil servants, not known for their clarity of approach, who tried to cover as many of the possible changes and combinations of changes to the 27.8 million UK homes as they could. Also, each of the home nations has its own form of permitted development rights!

What changes are allowed by permitted development?

The main changes permitted development allows for are:

  • Extensions or alterations to a house
  • Certain porches, doors and windows
  • Sheds, pet enclosures, fuel storage structures
  • Exterior painting
  • Gates, boundary walls and fences below 2m height
  • Installing certain micro-generation equipment

There is a long list of more unusual allowances, such as converting a barn into a home and building some temporary structures – but there is also a long, long list of complex and detailed restrictions.

house with living room and garden outdoor space

(Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davis)

I’m not going to attempt to unpack the nitty-gritty of permitted development rights here as you’ll find some very good, fairly lengthy guides online with lots of diagrams to help explain the principles. If you’re thinking of exercising your permitted development rights, then you’ll need to read these guides extremely carefully. No one should launch into a building project of any size based on assumptions about what is allowed. It is too complex, with too many nuances and caveats.

How should you proceed with changes under permitted development?

If, having done your homework thoroughly, you think you’d like to rely on permitted development rights to make changes to your home, then before you hire a builder or swing a hammer you should check with your local council that they agree with your assessment.

Think of it like this: you’ve seen something really tasty in the fridge. You’re pretty sure it’s fine to eat it, but you just check with your partner before doing so. It prevents arguments, which in the case of eating the last of the hummus, is nice but no big deal; in the case of a £100k extension, is best avoided.

What about when you come to sell your house?

There is a second very good reason to ask for confirmation on proposed changes under permitted development. When you come to sell your home, your buyer’s lawyers are likely to ask for evidence that any changes you’ve made are legal. If you don’t have robust proof of this, you’ll have to charge around at the last minute to get it or possibly lose the sale.

This question is asked by applying to your local planning department for a Lawful Development Certificate. Submit a simple set of drawings with a form explaining how the proposed change complies with permitted development rules and a fee (about half that of a proper planning permission application). It will take a similar length of time as a planning application. But the good news is that it’s not discretionary. The planning officer is just looking at how you’ve interpreted the rules, not asking neighbours or commenting on the design.

kitchen with garden area with french door

(Image credit: Future PLC/Chris Snook)

If all this seems too much of a faff, or what you’re proposing is small and simple, you could seek advice from a building surveyor or planning consultant and push on without getting the council involved. You will need to get something in writing, so if you’re questioned by the council or future buyers you can produce it.

While I appreciate that it seems wrong to have to ask to do something that you’re allowed to, the risks are too high not to double check. If you get it wrong and build something the planning department finds out about and decides doesn’t comply with permitted development rights, they may take enforcement action.

This means making a retrospective planning application – always nerve-racking – and the ultimate penalty could be having to take down or undo the work you’ve shed blood, sweat and tears over.

Charlie Luxton
Architectural Designer and renovation expert

Charlie Luxton is an architectural designer who juggles his roles as director of Charlie Luxton Design, TV presenter and public speaker. Charlie regularly gives talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences about all aspects of the built environment and sustainability.

Charlie is passionate about the environment and communicating his enthusiasm for sustainable architecture and design. He has combined his design work with writing and presenting television programmes for the last twenty years and fronts Building the Dream and Homes by the Sea for More4, amongst others.