Permitted Development Rights Demystified

During the past few years, the government has undertaken a major relaxation of planning restrictions by introducing new permitted development rights.

Here’s an outline of what property investors need to know about permitted development rights - what they are, what they cover and how the recent changes will affect your development or project. 


Building work being undertaken to the exterior of a house.

Undertaking improvement work under permitted development rights can bring major financial benefits to a property investor who wants to significantly increase the value of their personal home or an investment property. But before undertaking a project, it is vital you understand the planning regulations that are in place. By checking what you can and cannot do under permitted development will ensure you don't encounter any setbacks and that your project runs as smoothly as possible.

What are Permitted Development Rights?

Permitted Development Rights mean that homeowners and developers can carry out improvements and extensions of properties without having to formally apply for planning permission. 

However, permitted development rights are still subject to conditions and limitations to control the impact of the development.

Checking your project falls under Permitted Development Rules

Before undertaking any development works, check that the work falls under the Permitted Development Rights umbrella and whether any local restrictions on permitted development have been made.

For example, your local authority may have issued an Article 4 Direction, which means the permitted development rules have been removed in the interests of maintaining the character of the local area or it may also have removed permitted development rights on the original, or any subsequent, planning permission for a house. And any new space added by past owners since 1948 counts towards permitted development allocation for the property.

Your local planning authority delivers the planning service for a local area and should be your first point of contact for any planning queries.

Depending on the type of work you wish to carry out, you may have to submit a ‘prior approval’ application, even if your project falls within permitted development. You can find out what types of development require prior approval by looking at the most recent version of the General Permitted Development Order Regulations. The documents and information you will need to supply depends on the type of development.

As long as you provide all the correct information and documents, the prior approval process, which is reserved for permitted development, should be a lot simpler than submitting a planning application.

What's the difference between Permitted Development Rights and Planning Permission?

Projects that require planning permission will require a formal application to be submitted, whereas those that fall within Permitted Development Rights do not.

Depending on the proposed development, you may discover locally granted planning permission is already in place. These come in the form of a Local Development Order, a Neighbourhood Development Order or a Community Right To Build Order. If your development isn’t covered and doesn’t fall under Permitted Development Rights development, you will have to apply for planning permission.

If you are unsure whether your development is permissible under Permitted Development Rights, you can apply to your local planning authority for a Lawful Development Certificate for a formal confirmation.

In all other cases, you will need to apply for planning permission from the relevant local authority.

A planning application takes a maximum of 10 weeks to be decided, whereas, technically, building under the permitted development rights umbrella requires no decision time. However, if you follow the recommended advice to apply for a lawful development certificate, this also takes around 10 weeks.

You should also bear in mind that any works, regardless of whether they require planning permission or not, cannot start before building regulation approval has been obtained and any party wall issues resolved.

Applying for planning permission gives the local authority the power to refuse permission and it can never be guaranteed that an application can be granted. However, working closely with the local authority during the process gives the application the best chance of succeeding.

Can work under Permitted Development Rights be refused?

As long as the development falls within the parameters of permitted development rules, a project cannot be rejected and it can proceed without further complications.

However, a local planning authority is allowed to remove permitted development rights by issuing what is known as an Article 4 Direction, which means the permitted development rights have been removed in the interests of maintaining the character of the local area. A local authority may also have removed permitted development rights on the original, or any subsequent, planning permission for the house. If permitted development rights have been removed in either of these ways, planning permission will be required.

Even though permitted development rights allow for development without the need for planning permission, they are still subject to conditions in order to control impacts and protect local amenities. For example, in some areas, generally known as ‘designated areas’, permitted development rights are more restricted, so you will need to apply for planning permission for certain work that doesn't require planning permission in others. These areas are conservation areas, a national park, an area of outstanding national beauty, a world heritage site or the Broads. If you live or own a property in such an area, your local planning authority may have removed some of your permitted development rights by issuing an Article 4 Direction, There are also different requirements for listed buildings.

If you are planning to build a replacement dwelling and your proposed new home is bigger than the existing house, your permitted development rights are likely to be restricted or removed.

Must I inform the local planning authority before starting work?

Generally, contact with the local planning authority is only necessary where:

  • prior approval is required before development

  • the neighbour consultation scheme applies

  • the local planning authority has a Community Infrastructure Levy in place, which requires developers to contact the local planning authority before carrying out permitted development

  • the permitted development rules requires the developer to notify the local planning authority of change of use.

Even if you don't need to apply for planning permission, you need to contact the planning authority to see whether you need to obtain other consents before development can start. Such consents include works to protected trees, listed building consent, hazardous substances consent, environmental permits/licences and building regulations.

It is your responsibility to ensure that any necessary consents, permissions and permits are in place before work can start. Your local planning authority will tell you what you need to have in place and if you need to apply for planning permission for all or part of the work.

Permitted Development Rights and Lawful Development Certificates

If it is unclear whether a project is covered by permitted development rights, you can apply to the local planning authority for a Lawful Development Certificate for a legally binding decision on your development.

While it isn’t compulsory to have an Lawful Development Certificate, you may need one at some point to confirm that the work named in it is lawful for planning control purposes. A Lawful Development Certificate also protects against any future enforcement action.

Even if you are sure your plans fall under permitted development rights, it is advisable to apply for an Lawful Development Certificate, especially if you haven’t gone down the ‘prior approval’ road as it will ensure you won’t be faced with any problems after development.

Your application needs to supply enough clear information to allow the local planning authority to understand exactly what is involved otherwise it may refuse to issue a certificate. The planning authority will tell you what information it needs. If the local planning authority is satisfied, it will issue a Lawful Development Certificate.

The new Permitted Development Rights - an overview

In August 2020, the rules for permitted development were relaxed to allow property investors to undertake larger scale improvement projects, such as garage conversions and extensions, without the need for planning permission. The new Permitted Development Rights also allow property investors to extend by up to two storeys directly above an existing investment property.

On 31st March 2021, the government created a new permitted development right to allow change of use from commercial, business and service uses to a residential use without the need for planning permission. These new rights come into use on 1st August 2021. It means the conversion of unused commercial buildings, such as shops and restaurants, into new homes, will now be delivered through prior approval process, which is subject to planning conditions and standards, including rooms having adequate natural light, space standards and the impact on the provision of local amenities.

Under the new permitted development right, proposals are subject to a size limit of 1,500 sqm of floor space changing use and it applies only to commercial buildings that have been in Class E use for two years and that have been continually vacant for at least three months. The right will apply in conservation areas but not in national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty.

The new rights also amended permitted development rules to allow for larger extensions to schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and prisons.

Peter D Doherty

Peter D Doherty is the founder of the Property Investor Academy.

A Masters graduate in accounting and finance from Dublin City University, Pete worked in the City of London for 14 years. He held senior finance roles (Financial Controller) in several substantial UK commercial banks. He is a graduate of Macquarie University.

With over 10 years property investing experience, he is the owner of a London based lettings agency as well as proptech consultancy. He regularly contributes to online landlord forums such as Propertytribes and Reddit.  Peter is a member of National Residential Landlords Association (“NRLA”).

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