Do you need planning permission for your garden project?

Improving our gardens is a top priority for many of us this year, so it’s important to be aware that some schemes will need planning permission.

survey revealed that 42% of people in the UK plan to carry out work in their gardens in 2023, and you need to know the rules and regulations to follow before you roll up your sleeves and unleash your inner landscaper.

To help you stay within the law and avoid a hefty fine, we highlight the garden schemes that do require planning consent.

Overview

In the UK, planning permission is generally required for any development that alters the external appearance of a property or its use. DIY garden projects, from building structures to landscaping changes, fall under this umbrella. However, not every garden project needs planning permission, thanks to Permitted Development Rights.

Permitted Development Rights (PDRs)

These rights allow you to carry out minor changes and improvements without applying for planning consent. The rights vary based on factors such as property type, location, and the scale of the project. Some common garden schemes that fall into this category include:

Garden structures

Small additions like a shed, greenhouse or summerhouse won’t need planning permission if they meet specific size criteria and are positioned appropriately on your property.

Decking and patios

While installing decking or a patio area is often considered permitted development, if the area is elevated or attached to your house, there might be conditions and limitations to be aware of. If the decking is going to be 30cm above the ground, or if the decking will cover more than 50% of the garden area, planning permission will be needed.

Fences and walls

Installing a new fence is usually allowed depending on its height. Front garden walls and fences have stricter rules than those in rear gardens.

Minor landscaping work

Alterations such as creating ponds or reshaping your garden might come under PDRs. However, extensive excavation and major landscaping projects, such as building a walled garden, could cross into planning permission territory.

When planning permission is required:

If your scheme looks like it will push the boundaries of permitted development rights, you’ll need to seek planning consent. For example:

Major structural alterations

Building a large garden structure such as an outbuilding with living accommodation or a sizable studio is likely to need planning permission.

Changes to listed buildings or conservation areas

If your house is listed or located within a conservation area, there are stricter regulations on what you can do. Even minor changes might need planning consent to ensure the character of the area is preserved.

Paving your front garden

Creating a parking space or adding impermeable paving usually requires planning permission due to concerns about water drainage and visual impact. Planning permission will be needed if you want to lay a traditional, impermeable driveway, such as concrete or tarmac, that’s more than five square metres and does not provide for natural water drainage.

Gates

If a gate is over two metres in height, you will need permission. If the property is next to a vehicular highway the gate must be under one metre high.

When Building Regulations approval is required:

Even basic changes to a property must be made in line with building regulations. According to sections 35 and 35A of the Building Act 1984, the penalty for not having consent can result in an unlimited fine or a fine of up to £50 per day.

Alternatively, a local planning authority could issue a homeowner with an enforcement notice requiring them to alter or remove the alteration works in question. Failure to comply means that the local authority has the power to undertake the restoration work and charge the homeowner for the cost of doing so. 

Do’s and don’ts

Having established the basics, here are some other things to consider to ensure that your garden ideas will keep you on the right side of the law.

Do:

  • Research: find out about your local authority’s specific planning regulations for your area, property type and project. This information is often available online.
  • Consult experts: seek professional advice if you are in doubt, from architects, surveyors or planning consultants who will be able to offer guidance.
  • Keep records: including plans, photographs and all relevant communications. This is an excellent way to explain the background to your scheme if issues arise.

Don’t:

  • Assume permitted development rights apply to your project without proper verification. Doing so risks opening the door to complications down the line.
  • Ignore your neighbours. Consider their views and the potential impact of your project on them. Communicating with them at an early stage is often a good plan and can prevent concerns from escalating.
  • Be in a rush. While the planning process can be drawn out, starting without the proper consents could cause you a legal headache later and potential fines.

When planning permission and building regulations are not needed, but other rules exist

Failing to keep high hedges under control

This could result in a fine of up to £1,000 according to Part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. It’s a homeowner’s responsibility to maintain their hedges and if a neighbour considers that an overgrown hedge is causing them a nuisance, they can complain to the local planning authority. If the authority finds that the complainant’s enjoyment of their property is negatively affected by the hedge, they could issue a formal notice requiring the owner to deal with it.

Skip licences

While a skip hire company is usually responsible for obtaining skip licences, in some areas, you may need to apply for a permit yourself. Also, if the required safety lights and markings are not put on a skip you could be fined up to £1,000.

Potential fines

You could be fined up to £20,000 for carrying out improvements that don’t have planning permission. In some cases, if you haven’t obtained planning permission before making alterations, the council will allow you to make a retrospective planning application. However, under Section 172 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the council can in some cases issue an enforcement notice requiring you to put the area in question back to how it was. Unlimited fines can be handed out for anyone not complying with this.

Other points

When checking if you need planning permission or building regulations approval, you can find information on government websites, and you can also contact your local planning authority. Home insurance experts at Compare the Market stress that it’s also important to inform your home insurance provider before building work starts: they should also be informed about potential security risks such as alterations to windows and doors. And if you’re carrying out improvement work yourself, consider getting accidental damage insurance cover.

And finally…

While your DIY garden project may be able to go ahead under PDR, remember that a larger scheme is likely to need planning permission. Do your research, and with a sound understanding of planning regulations under your belt, you can transform your green space without breaking the law.

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