Works Requiring Planning Permission/Consent
LEONARD SALES has been in the construction industry for 27 years and has learned from experience that the clients who demand the highest standards and who are willing to work in conjunction with the contractor are the ones who generally get their projects finished on time and to budget. Len is based in Thorpe Bay, Essex.
WORKS REQUIRING PLANNING PERMISSION/CONSENT
Within the domestic side of the construction industry there are five main categories of works that may require planning permission and building regulations consent (approval):
- loft conversions;
- major internal alterations;
- major external work.
Note: Even replacement windows are covered by the building regulations, although some window manufacturers/suppliers are licensed to undertake these works without the need for a formal application to the local authority.
Alterations to the building structure or services require building regulation approval, although small building works can often be carried out using a ‘building notice’ application requiring limited information or plans. Often the building inspector will just visit the site to discuss and inspect the works.
To have an extension built you will require scaled drawings. These will need to be drawn up by an architect or similar qualified person. You will need to apply for planning permission and have the approval of your local planning authority. The local planning office can be contacted via your local council offices.
As explained earlier, having drawings prepared and approved can be a long drawn-out affair so be mindful of this from the outset. From the conception of a project to actually starting work can vary from six weeks to six months, depending on its size and nature. In some cases, such as listed buildings, this may be longer and could even be rejected for a variety of reasons.
Many people set out to have an extension built expecting everything to be 100 per cent complete within four or five months. However, to ensure that everything is in place and provide room for any unforeseen circumstances, a more realistic timescale would be a minimum of seven or eight months.
Again, loft conversions will require scaled drawings which will need to meet current building regulations. You may find that there are differences in dimensions between the drawings and the finished project. This is because it is sometimes difficult to survey lofts and existing structures accurately where access is difficult or dangerous.
The person carrying out the survey for the drawing may measure the lower part of the building, i.e. room layouts, which will give a fairly precise idea of the amount of floor space available. You must remember, however, that due to the slope of the roof not all of the space will be usable for walking around and so on.
Never have a loft conversion or extension built without contacting your local authority as this work will be picked up in any surveys that are carried out when selling your property and may cause you problems. You may be required to produce calculations or ‘as built’ drawings, and you could even be required to return the building to its original condition.
As with extensions, you should think about allowing a minimum of seven or eight months from conception to completion, so try to have the work carried out during the driest seasons if at all possible. Trying to minimise the effect of the weather on the project could actually help to reduce any potential delays.
You will require drawings and may need planning approval, but in most cases garages are a more straightforward affair, depending on the location and size in relation to the main building. If you are planning to build a single storey garage onto the side of your house it is worth considering increasing the foundations and design in order that you may be able to extend on top of the garage at a later date. Even if you know you will not want to extend in the future, the fact that the opportunity exists to do so may increase the selling price slightly, and may also add much more desirability for any future potential buyer.
These do not necessarily require planning approval but for your own peace of mind it is worth enquiring with your local authority. One area of internal alterations that will require planning approval is when a single property is going to be subdivided into flats or bed-sits.
There are many issues that are raised with this type of proposal such as fire precautions and alarms, noise, access and egress, plus other issues that the regional local authority imposes. While your neighbouring property may have been subdivided, it does not mean that you will automatically obtain permission.
The local authorities may take into account elements such as how many properties have been subdivided and what impact this has had on the local environment. They will consider local schools and facilities and what effect additional cars have had on the area.
One cautionary note is that if you are planning to have two rooms knocked into one, for example, a structural engineer would be required to ensure that the correct size supports are introduced, if needed, and that the area of foundation that will be taking the distributed weights is adequate.
There are certain regulations regarding garden walls and fencing which your local authority will advise you of. With external works you do not necessarily need precise drawings; however, a good sketch of requirements will help to avoid misunderstandings.
In order to avoid conflict with neighbours, it would be advisable to discuss your plans with them, particularly if their property is close to the work and especially if the amount of sunlight that they currently enjoy will be reduced.
Many long-running disputes with neighbours have been caused by the erection of fences which, although within the prescribed height, affect the amount of sunlight that has perhaps been enjoyed for several years before. That said, you are entitled to your privacy, but common courtesy can help to avoid misunderstandings.
Problems like this can be avoided by agreeing to erect a lower fence than you are actually allowed and having a trellis on the top section through which trailing flowers can be grown. This will allow the sunlight to still be enjoyed along with the sight of the flowers.
If you are planning to have trees removed, you must first ensure that they do not have a tree preservation order (TPO) against them. Your local authority will advise you on this. Beware of cutting down trees that are very close to buildings as this is a major cause of subsidence. As the tree roots die off they create voids which in turn are filled by the shifting of earth around them – where the roots are extremely large this can have severe effects on foundations.
Cutting down trees with TPOs is an offence for which you can be fined. The trees on your property are your responsibility, and as such you will be expected to know what you can and cannot do. This is very important when having work carried out, in that you must ensure any such instructions not to interfere with trees are passed on to builders or contractors.
It is not widely known that many trees are protected by TPOs, which means that you need consent from the local council to carry out extensive work to them, i.e. pruning or felling. There may be other factors that need to be taken into account, particularly if you live in a conservation area. If you have any doubts at all about trees within your local environment that may be affected by your project, ensure that you make the necessary enquiries before proceeding. You should be able to obtain a copy of a free leaflet, Protected Trees: a guide to tree preservation procedures, from your local authority office. Remember that you can be fined for any unlawful work to trees which are protected by a TPO.
Tree preservation orders are made by a local planning authority (LPA) in order to prohibit any of the following:
- wilful damage;
- cutting down;
- wilful destruction.
Trees are now a more important factor of our local environment, and it is important that we appreciate them. Consent from LPAs may be necessary to carry out work to completely remove a tree, or to work on it at all. The cutting or removing of tree roots is potentially damaging and can make the tree become unstable in high winds, which would obviously pose a risk to people and property.
MECHANICAL AND ELECTRICAL
Most of the works considered above will include mechanical or electrical elements. Known in the construction industry as mechanical and electrical, this covers all works associated with the main services:
- mechanical – plumbing and heating, ventilation, drainage, irrigation, gas appliances
- electrical – lighting and power, security alarms, audio, phones, cable TV, data cabling, etc.
Fully qualified technicians should carry out and certify all of the mechanical and electrical elements of work, whether or not they are working for a builder. It is important that they belong to a trade association such as CORGI for the mechanical work, and the NIC EIC for the electrical work.
You may have to organise some of these independently of works being undertaken by a builder, particularly with regard to the utilities and communications companies. These are the two main areas that you should be looking for certificates on completion of the project.
Apart from statutory legal requirements and insurance policies needed to start a business, individual projects may need insurance cover for the building works.
As a rule of thumb, insurance for the building works and material etc. in new buildings, i.e. buildings which are not joined to an already insured property, is the responsibility of the contractor.
Works to existing buildings are normally covered by the client’s insurance, and it is necessary for them to ensure that they notify their building insurance company prior to any work commencing. Failure to notify insurance companies may invalidate any future claim or cover (always confirm in writing or get proof of insurance). Builders should still have insurance against unforeseen mishaps.
It should never be presumed by the builder or the client that planning and building regulations approval are all that is required. If planning permission is required, confirmation of approval must be obtained in writing and stamped on any drawings.
A building lease or deeds may have restrictions that only allow you to carry out cosmetic work, and you may need to gain the freeholder’s consent for any work which changes the external or internal design of the building. If in doubt consult a solicitor.
A condition schedule is normally associated with the letting of properties whereby the condition of walls, carpets, furniture, etc. is recorded and documented at the beginning of the agreement or let and then inspected for damage at the end of the letting period. Inspections are also carried out at specified intervals in between. If any damage is found other than those that were previously recorded and that cannot be classified as reasonable wear and tear, the tenant is responsible for the cost of remedial work.
It is therefore sensible to produce a condition schedule before you have any work carried out. If you expect builders or contractors to have regular access through the property, and in particular in areas that are not going to be worked on, the schedule would assist in identifying the level of temporary protection required. In order to protect the client’s/contractor’s interest, a condition schedule should be written up in order to avoid any dispute later about damage caused during the works.
Condition schedules are not restricted to internal use and can be prepared as separate or combined documents for different parts of the premises. If you plan to undertake external work only, you could draw up a condition schedule to identify existing defects and specify precautions that you would like to have put in place. You could also ask for written proposals of action the builder or contractor will take to protect your property.
After the condition schedule is prepared, it should be signed and dated by both parties to ensure that agreement of the conditions is a true reflection at the time. When the work is complete and before final payments are made, a thorough check of the items on the schedule can be carried out. If damage has been caused during the work, the damage should be repaired by the contractor at his own cost or he should make proposals to have the damage rectified if it is not within his scope.
A condition schedule may take the form of photographs or agreed lists of defects or damages that are apparent prior to the work starting. Without this agreed condition schedule the contractor may face claims for damages or be asked to repair or redecorate parts of the building or site previously damaged by others. This should be extended to cover adjoining buildings, to protect the client from claims by neighbours.
You should also take photographs of the pavement directly outside your property, as the local authority is the only organisation which can issue instructions to repair paving and kerbs that are damaged. If the damage is proved to be caused by the work to your property, you will receive the bill. It is important then that your builder/contractor is aware that he is responsible for protection for the pavement etc.
Delivery vehicles may accidentally damage kerbs but it is very rare that they will admit to it. To ensure you are not issued with unexpected bills your builder/contractor should be aware that he is expected to control these situations and inform his suppliers in writing that they will have to pay for damage caused by their vehicles.