Topic overview

Planning permission and building controls

People in hard hats looking at building plans

If you are building or altering commercial premises, or changing the way you use them, there's a fair chance that you will need planning permission or building consent (or both). Making the right applications and ensuring that you have any necessary approvals helps you avoid making a very costly mistake.

Planning permission

Planning permission is generally required for most new building projects, significant alterations to commercial premises or changing the type of business carried out at your commercial premises. Internal alterations and small external changes (such as putting up a low fence) do not normally require planning consent, though there are more stringent rules for listed buildings and in conservation areas.

From September 2020, changes to the planning system have in some cases made it easier to build new storeys onto existing premises, to redevelop buildings as residential properties, or to change the type of business using commercial premises.

If you are unsure whether you need planning approval, you can ask your local authority for informal planning advice. You can also apply formally for a lawful development certificate, confirming that planning permission is not required for a proposed use or development. Explore the interactive guidance on the Planning Portal website for information on common building projects.

To apply for planning permission, you will have to send a planning application form and fee to your local authority. The planning application will be considered against local planning policies and any objections received from the public. You will normally want to take professional advice to help prepare plans that are likely to be acceptable and to negotiate the planning process.

Planning and building control applications | Planning Portal

Most planning and building control applications are submitted online. You can apply to every local authority in England using the Planning Portal.

Visit the Government’s Planning Portal website.

You can also calculate the fees for any planning application you’re considering (applies to applications in England only).

Planning approval may be granted outright, conditions may be applied (such as restricting the hours of use of business premises) or a planning application may be rejected. You can negotiate minor objections, submit a new application taking into account concerns raised by the local authority, or appeal a decision that goes against you.

Carrying out a building project without planning permission can be disastrous. Although you may be able to apply for retrospective planning approval, you could face refusal and a requirement to demolish unapproved premises or cease activities that are not permitted.

Building regulations

Under the building regulations, you normally require building consent for major building works: for example, new construction, significant extensions or structural alterations. Changing the use of premises can also require building control approval: for example, to ensure that the building meets relevant fire safety requirements.

The 'building regs' also apply to some specific types of work such as the installation of a gas boiler. In these cases, building consent is not required provided that the work is carried out by an appropriate registered professional (such as a Gas Safe engineer).

You can get informal advice from your local authority on whether building control approval is required for your development. If it is, you make an application together with a fee based on the value of the works being carried out. The local authority can approve, reject or impose conditions on the project. In addition, the building works will be regularly visited by an inspector to ensure that they are properly carried out.

As with planning permission, going ahead without building approval can be very risky. You could face an order to demolish unsafe alterations or experience problems selling the premises, for example. Read about building regulations on the GOV.UK website.

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