The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 states that planning permission is required for ‘development’ and any ‘material change of use’. What constitutes a ‘material’ change of use is a question of fact and degree, and will depend largely on the facts of each case. This element of subjectivity can result in a minefield for property owners. The enforcement powers of the Local Authority for breach of the planning laws are wide ranging and can involve a property owner in years of stress and expense.
Planning permission is not generally required for work to the inside of a building (although Building Regulation consent, which is different, may well be required for such work). A notable and well known exception to this rule is that a change of use from one dwelling (including a flat) to two or more dwelling houses does constitute a ‘material’ change of use and thus planning permission for this work is needed.
The converse however is not so clear cut. So what if the position is a property owner wants to merge or amalgamate existing residences?
Well, the answer is not to make any assumptions and to seek the advice of the planning department of your Local Authority before you carry out any work. This is because Local Authorities are not taking a consistent approach to the issue. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example, recently changed its local planning policy to try to avoid the loss of living units. Its policy suddenly changed to require planning permission for work that previously did not need it.
An important post script is that any verbal comment made by a planning department of a Local Authority is not binding. So ensure that at the very least you obtain their comments in writing but if in doubt, you will need to make a planning application.
Such issues can be particularly problematic if you are about to sell a house that you have recently converted or altered. It is often only when the solicitor acting for a buyer of a property starts asking questions and raising enquiries that the detail of these issues comes to light. This can seriously delay or sometimes, completely derail a sale.
Therefore, if you are thinking of selling your house, seek advice from your solicitor before you put it on the market.
Here at Woodfines our Residential Property team offer friendly advice and will be happy to assist you.
Contact Lorraine Parkes on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodfines Solicitors, Lockton House, Clarendon Road, Cambridge, CB2 8FH
Phone number 01223 411421