Do I Need Planning Permission for My Loft Conversion?
Discover the factors that determine whether or not a loft conversion can be completed without Planning Permission
We asked the experts what you should know, so your work passes muster with the planning officer.
Professional advice from: Terry Richards of Asset Lofts; Cat Hoad of Absolute Project Management; Seán McAlister of Pencil and Brick
There are four main things that would affect whether you need Planning Permission for your loft, according to our experts. These are:
- The type of property
- Whether you live in a conservation area or a listed building
- Local council guidelines
- Previous work on the property
1. Type of property The first thing to consider is whether your property is a house or a flat, Seán McAlister suggests. “A lot of people don’t realise that flats don’t enjoy the same breadth of Permitted Development Rights [as a house], whether yours is a leasehold or even if you share a freehold,” he says. “You may still be able to do a conversion, but can you do it through Permitted Development? It’s such a fundamental thing to check.”
New-build properties are often exempt from Permitted Development Rights, too, Terry Richards says. So if your property is new, a planning application may be necessary.
“It’s what’s called Article 2(3) Land,” Seán says. “That also includes National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s not that all Permitted Development Rights disappear, but some of them get restricted.”
If your home is listed, also exercise caution. “Even if your extension stays within the existing roofline and doesn’t otherwise need Planning Permission, if your house is listed, you’ll have to apply for Listed Building Consent,” Cat Hoad says.
“Whether you’re granted this can depend on, for example, the extent to which the work will affect the ‘historic fabric’ of the house,” she continues. “For instance, in some areas of London, conservation officers don’t like original timbers to be cut into in Georgian terraces.”
“Irrespective of those things, the council might have designated your street or area an Article 4 Direction,” Seán says. “It effectively says we’re removing your Permitted Development Rights of this type in that area. So there will literally be streets where lofts just aren’t allowed.”
“The council may also have issued guidelines about the sorts of loft extensions it will permit,” Cat says. “For example, dormers on the front are prohibited, but dormers on the rear may be OK, depending on the shape, size and change relative to the existing roof profile, and the extent to which the change can be seen from other properties or the public realm.”
Don’t assume that, because other houses in your road have already converted their lofts, yours will automatically be approved. “It may help, but during a planning application, each individual property is assessed in relation to the immediate environment,” Terry says.
“Clients always think that, if their neighbour has done a loft conversion, they will be able to,” Cat adds. “Unfortunately, while that can be a useful indicator, some extensions were done without permission or before the current regime came into force.”
However, Seán says you may be able to argue a case. “Context and prevailing local character can change over time,” he explains. “If everyone has done a loft and you are the only person without one, you can say, irrespective of whether it meets a planning policy, the prevailing local character of the area is having a loft, and I’m the odd one out.”
Under the UK government’s Permitted Development Class B – which covers additions to the roof space – any previous enlargement to the original roof space in any part of your house must be included in your volume allowance.
“Sometimes your loft has already been extended, so you can be confused by this fact,” Seán says. “Let’s say, for example, you added dormers on the front of your house and already used up 30 cubic metres or your 40 cubic metre quota.”
Hip-to-gable roofs, dormers, extensions on the main body of the house, or on your ‘outrigger’ – the bit that sticks out at the back of terraced houses – can all count here.
“A previous Planning Permission might have removed your Permitted Development Rights,” Seán adds.
“Let’s say someone did an extension at ground floor level and it got planning, but one of the conditions was that the rest of your Permitted Development Rights were curtailed,” he says. “It’s more often on new-build houses, because they don’t want you to add on afterwards.”
You might also need permission if you’re turning an existing loft into a more liveable loft. “If the existing loft doesn’t have enough headroom, you may need to raise the ridge,” Terry says. “This will require Planning Permission.”
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“Most properties benefit from Permitted Development Rights, so, if correctly designed, many may not need a planning application,” Terry says.
In order to qualify, however, you must meet certain strict criteria. Under Permitted Development Class B, any increase in volume of a loft extension must not be greater than 40 cubic metres in a terraced house, or 50 cubic metres in a semi-detached or detached house.
In addition, the height of any part of your loft cannot be higher than the original roof. The highest part is classed as the ridge of the main roof or, for flat buildings, the height of the highest roof. Protrusions don’t count here: think chimneys or parapet walls above the main roofline.
The golden rule is, always check if you’re unsure, so you’re not caught out by a planning officer down the line.
“We advise and help our clients to request a Lawful Development Certificate (which is a kind of planning application) from the council before starting building, because only the council can certify if the proposed works comply with the permitted development,” Terry says.
“There are some foundational rules to find out whether or not you can use Permitted Development Rights,” Seán says. “This is what a good architect will do – we use a methodical and systemised checklist.”
Under Permitted Development Class B, any new materials used on the loft building exterior must be similar in appearance to existing ones.
However, there might be an element of subjectivity here. “It depends whether the planners consider the materials to be attractive and in keeping, even if not matching,” Cat says.
The materials you use can affect the size of your loft conversion as well, so don’t forget to think about how different elements – floor, ceiling, windows – will fit together and meet Permitted Development Rights.
“Usually, the total height of the roof and location of the glazing in the roof are important considerations,” Cat says. “Clients should ensure the build-up of the roof itself, the desired ceiling height and the build-up of the floor onto which the conversion is going are all going to fit within the total height.
“This sounds obvious, but actually requires a lot of thought, because the floor has to be structurally appropriate and the roof has to comply with, among other things, energy-efficiency requirements (which usually means a minimum thickness of roof insulation),” she says.
Finally, consider whether you’re going to add a balcony. “Under Permitted Development Rights, you’re not allowed to make a balcony or veranda, or a raised platform,” Seán says. “Under Planning Permission, you can ask for that.”
These regulations are there for a reason – to ensure your building remains respectful to the character of the surrounding area and the people living nearby.
“There can be expensive fines, criminal retributions and so on if you don’t have Permitted Development Rights,” Seán says.
If you can’t get the work “regularised” or legitimised retrospectively, in the worst-case scenario, it could be torn down.
Seán says planning officers discover illegal work “every which way you can think of. Most common is a disgruntled neighbour.”
Did you need Planning Permission for your loft conversion? Share your experiences in the Comments.