Anything goes

London Evening Standard, March 2009, Feature

The last thing you need as you embark on a major home-improvement project is the extra stress of dealing with planners. Submit a planning application for your new kitchen extension and you are likely to face objections from neighbours, the whims of a junior planning officer, expense and delay.

But if yours is one of the millions of private householder projects being built every year, such as a small back extension or a loft conversion, there is a way to bypass the whole process.

Make sure your project conforms to a set of predefined rules and you can exercise your Permitted Development Rights (PDR ) and start building without filling in a single form.

These rights have now been expanded to make it easier for householders, and ease the creaking planning system.

In theory it means that if your project is invisible from the street and will not affect your neighbours, you have much greater freedom. In practice, though, negotiating the new rules is more complicated.

Some rules are vaguely worded, meaning that interpretation can change from council to council. In addition, the new legislation gives councils the right to tighten up the rules — in conservation areas, for example.

Which means that if you go the permitted development route, you need to be sure that you’re acting legally or you risk getting into trouble. Hiring an experienced architect will help avoid potential pitfalls.

For further reassurance you can apply for a certificate of lawful development for £75 — half the standard £150 planning fee — which takes eight weeks to process. This means that you will be able to add that smart new open-plan kitchen you’ve been dreaming of with a fraction of the hassle.