Do you need planning permission to work from home?
This really comes down to whether the impact of what you're proposing to do is acceptable or not.
For example you may want to convert an existing room such as a box room, loft room or even your garage into a little home office or if your plans are for altering an existing room in your home you need to consider if there is enough room for your desk, enough natural light and space to get all your office furniture in. Don't forget about having access to the internet and a telephone line too. Alternatively, you can do what I have done in the past when working from home and get yourself a little building in your back garden which you can convert into a small office.
The key thing to take on board is whether or not the overall character of your house will change as a result of your business activities. If what you're proposing has a negative impact, you need to ask yourself the following questions… Will your home be no longer be used mainly as a private residence? I have known that you can change up to 30% of the floor area of your house to business use. As long as at least half of your house is still residential use I think that would be acceptable. As a rule of thumb, I would say try not to use over 30%.
Also, have a think about whether or not customers will be visiting the house? Will you need additional parking and would that affect your neighbours? Something else to think about, the activities you are doing within your business, would that be unusual for your area? For example, If you put a building in your garden to do some light engineering work would the noise upset your neighbours? Think about the hours of work, and again it's down to whether you're going to cause undue disturbance whether it's down to noise or even smells. I’ve known people who have wanted to start up a small catering business from home, they're making cakes and curries etc and you have to think about whether cooking at 2 am would upset the people who live around you. There's also the consideration of whether renting out bedrooms to tenants or lodgers constitutes a business.
So the key question is, is your home still mainly your home or has it become business premises?
How can I object to a planning application?
It's all very well getting your planning permission approved but what if you see a planning application, for example, a neighbour is putting in a planning application and you don't like it, you want to object to the proposal, what can you do?
When a local planning authority receives a planning application, the law requires it to give publicity to the application in several ways. This allows those who may be affected by it to have to opportunity to make their views known. The advertisements of the publicity for the application quite often includes publishing a notice in a local newspaper, posting a public site notice as you'll see on gates/posts/fences and neighbour notification in form of a letter which is given to the occupiers and owners of adjoining properties.
You’ve got to remember the impact and balance of what the application is doing, you cannot complain about an application because you feel it might reduce your house value. Just because they wanted an extension, do bear in mind that what if you were in an identical situation and you wanted an extension on your house. Would it be unfair to object against theirs if you want to do it yourself? Once again, it's all about balance.
You need to write down your planning concerns and any relevant points then send them to the local planning authorities planning department. There is usually a case officer allocated to deal with each application. You can always send a letter to the enquiries desk at the planning department if you don't know who the case officer is, always try and include a planning reference number and the address on the application if you can.
How do I ensure that my planning application has the best possible chance of being approved?
I believe that planning is all about a careful balance between the impact and the acceptability of your proposal. If you look at this from an impartial point of view and you look at a proposal and you think it's a little outrageous or wouldn't be acceptable then surely the local authority and planning officers would look at it the same way.
You couldn't put a thatched cottage in the middle of a high street nor could you put a house of multiple occupations with lots of parking in a sleepy village. It has to be a careful balance between what you think would be acceptable in a location against what the neighbours would want.
I appreciate that some neighbours are likely to hate everything you want to do but if you look at it subjectively, you'll see whether something on the balance is acceptable in terms of the impact that the development will have, if you always get that balance right, you will always get the best result.
More often than not, the planning officer will ask for amendments to your planning application and usually ask for it to be changed slightly, this may because they feel it has too much of an impact and harshness about it and therefore as it stands, they don't think it is acceptable. The extension may be too big or the house is too tall, maybe the roof shape doesn't fit in with the neighbours. It's all about the balance of the impact and what is acceptable.
Some of the major things to consider when making a planning application and getting that balance right are the loss of privacy, overlooking and overshadowing, is what you’re trying to do going to affect your neighbours? Also, consider highway safety, traffic, traffic noise and is there enough parking?
The location of where you want to build is also very important, is it next to a listed building or in a conservation area? What about the layout and the density of what you're trying to do. Think about the materials, if you're trying to have something which has a sand and cement rendered wall as opposed to nice matching brickwork. Things like nature conservation, will you be upsetting the local wildlife?
These are all sorts of things which should be considered when making a planning application, remember it's a careful balance of the impact and whether it's acceptable. If it's got a very little impact, it's more likely to be acceptable and therefore your planning application is more likely to be approved.
Can planning permission be granted retrospectively?
If you go ahead with a development like an extension or a new building of some sort and you don't have planning permission then the local authority could ask you to make a retrospective planning application.
This is interesting because although they may say yes you need planning permission, it is not commonly known that it is not against any law to build or change the use of something without first having made a planning application which was approved. What is against the law is that should the local authority decide that no they don't like what you're doing, they can issue an enforcement notice which is where the planning enforcement officer will tell you to stop what you're doing and make a formal application. It only becomes unlawful not to comply with the enforcement officer, not the fact of needing a planning application in the first place.
When a local authority looks at a situation they have to decide whether or not it’s in the interest of the council, owner or neighbours to actually issue an enforcement notice. Sometimes you see things being built even if they haven't been given permission, it is not actually unlawful to do that, it's unlawful not to comply with an enforcement notice and it is then up to the local authority planning department whether they will issue an enforcement notice.
Does everything need planning permission?
I was asked by a local builder recently whether I could help out with a planning problem. What the situation was, was that a gentleman in the grounds of his rural house had a stable and he wanted to convert that stable into an annex for his family. As his children were starting to get a little bit older they want to have more space so he wanted to put the kids in another building so he could have a bit of peace and quiet, I can relate to that!
So, he understandably thought that he needed to go for planning permission so he employed quite an expensive architect who said: “yes no problem we'll get you planning permission to turn your stable into an annex.” Then the local authority started to mess him about.
The first thing they wanted was a series of surveys including an owl survey to make sure there weren't any barn owls in the stable. They wanted another survey to make sure there weren't any bats and then another survey regarding newts because he was within 200m of a pond and lastly he needed a structural survey to say whether or not this building was structurally sound and suitable for conversion. So he's already spent several thousand pounds for around four surveys and has also spent quite a lot of money with this architect. As you can imagine he was quite upset after several months of going back and forth when the local authority then refused him permission.
This is when I was asked to come in and have a look at the problem. I noticed straight away that this conversion was a horse stable, a stable is for pets and therefore pets are part of an ancillary residential use whereby you store pets eg if you were to keep greyhounds in your garden, the building in your garden is ancillary to the main use of your house.
So the upshot of it was that he could change the insides of his stable to any residential use that he wanted without the need for planning permission.
Now, the trick here is we use Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act which says that any changes that are purely internal on a building, which doesn’t change the use of that building, do not require planning permission. So all the work that he wanted to do to create a bedroom, a lounge, a kitchen and a bathroom he didn't actually require planning permission because the stable was ancillary to the main house so after he’d spent all that money on the architect, he could have saved that money by using me. He is now in the process of suing the architect to get his fees back, I wish him luck.
So no, not everything requires planning permission if you know the ways around it you can circumvent the planning laws.