Building and Planning

Government Building Advice

Planning advice where you live
Before you start building
Building Planning permission
Building regulations approval
Party walls

Listed building consent

Conservation area consent

General advice
Safety advice
Solving building problems
Home Improvement Loans

UK Building Planning advice where you live Back to top

There is a distinction to be made between planning regulations, the controls over listed buildings and building regulations (which ensure the health and safety of people). Laws and guidance on these differ depending on where you live in the United Kingdom.

In Northern Ireland, planning control is in the hands of the Planning Service of the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland). 'Your Home and Planning Permission - A guide for householders in Northern Ireland' is available on its website. The District Councils are responsible for building control in Northern Ireland.

Guidance on planning and Building Standards for Scotland are available on the Scottish Executive website.

The National Assembly for Wales website has details of planning regulations that apply in Wales. Building Control in Wales is managed as in England and is explained below.

Before you start building Back to top

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) offers sound advice on their website on measures you can take to protect yourself, such as careful planning and ensuring you have the necessary approval for the work you would like carried out. Wigan Council website has clear and helpful information on employing builders and advice on how to minimise problems.

The Government is piloting a Quality Mark scheme in Birmingham and Somerset designed to help consumers find reputable builders and tradesmen to carry out repairs and improvements to their home. The scheme will also provide the opportunity for reputable builders to demonstrate their commitment to quality to potential customers.

The Architects Registration Board (ARB) is the independent regulator for the architects' profession in the United Kingdom and deals with complaints about architects. You should check the website to see if the architect you propose using is entitled to use the term architect.

Building Planning permission  

Depending on the nature of the job, you may need approval from a number of sources before the work can start. There are two sorts of planning permission. You may need to apply for specific planning permission from your local planning authority. There is a fee to pay for this.

If your building works are wholly internal, you are unlikely to need specific planning permission unless you are creating a basement. The planning officers at your local authority will be able to advise you. You can find their contact details on the open government website.

If you live in a house that is not divided into flats, bedsits or maisonettes, you may have permitted development rights which will allow you to make certain types of minor changes to your home. This would mean there would be no need to apply to the local authority, and no fee to pay! For example, if you are considering building an extension or a swimming pool, or adding a patio or a driveway, then this may be possible under permitted development rights. The ODPM's 'Planning - A Guide for Householders' has more information on this.

If you live in a conservation area or other sensitive area (such as a National Park, or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) there may be additional restrictions on some of these rights.

Building regulations approval Back to top

Building regulations ensures the health and safety of people in and around buildings by providing functional requirements for building design and construction. This means that if you want to put up a new building, extend or alter an existing one, or provide fittings in a building such as drains or heat-producing appliances, the building regulations will probably apply. They may also apply to certain changes of use of an existing building even though construction work may not be intended. An ODPM explanatory booklet provides more information on the situation in England and Wales. Your Local Authority Building Control Officer or an Approved Inspector will be able to confirm whether Building Regulations apply in a specific case.

Party walls Back to top

If you intend to carry out building work which involves either: (1) work on an existing wall shared with another property; (2) building on the boundary with a neighbouring property; or (3) excavating near an adjoining building, then you should follow the procedures set out in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. These are separate from both planning and building regulations controls. An ODPM explanatory booklet provides information and guidance.

Listed building consent Back to top

If you live in a building listed for its architectural merit or historic interest, you will need to apply to the local authority for listed building consent if you intend to make any alterations - including internal ones. Changes to minor buildings in your garden, or the garden wall, could also require this consent. It is a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised works to a listed building.

A leaflet, 'What Listing Means', can be obtained by telephoning the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on 0207 211 6913.

Conservation area consent Back to top

Conservation area consent is required only for the total or substantial demolition of a building in a conservation area. Failure to obtain it would also be a criminal offence. It would be wise to consult your local authority planning officer before undertaking any external building works if you live in a conservation area as the 'permitted development' limits are much stricter.

If you remain in doubt as to the scope of any of the permissions or consents mentioned above, contact your local council. Information booklets usually simplify regulations. Please do not treat advice literature as if it were a full or authoritative statement of the law.

General Building advice Back to top

If you are carrying out external building works, or works adjoining another property, always keep your neighbours informed to minimise the likelihood of problems developing. Check the title deeds of your house for restrictive covenants, and seek legal advice if you need to. Ask your local authority if there are any planning conditions on the permission for your house. You should also check that the council has not issued an 'article 4 direction' which takes away some of your permitted development rights. If this is the case, you will have to submit a planning application for work which does not usually need one.

The Citizens' Advice website has a list of organisations who can help with complaints about building and property services

Building Safety advice Back to top

The Safety at Home section of the Consumer Gateway includes information on DIY and advice on keeping safe and avoiding accidents in the home.

The DTI's Safety Unit has produced a number of safety leaflets. They include advice on using stepladders and general guidance on carrying out DIY tasks safely.

Solving building problems Back to top

Your local authority will not be able to help with property law matters, such as land ownership disputes, 'ancient lights' and rights to light, or restrictive covenants. They are for you to sort out, if necessary with help from a surveyor or solicitor. The Citizens Advice website provides basic advice and information on your rights.

If your builder belongs to a trade association you might be able to get help from the association to settle any dispute between you. The Trade Association Forum website has a Directory where you can find contact details for most associations.