LOFT CONVERSION PROJECT AND EXTENSION GUIDE.
This guide provides information on the key policies and issues associated with a loft conversion and extension. The homeowner will be able to determine whether the proposal will be subject to planning permission and, if so, the necessary documentation and the course of action required. The route to Building Regulations approval is explained via local authority or approved inspector, with additional information detailing the types of applications available, their processes and the Party Wall Act 1996.
1.1 Because of the complexities of loft conversions and the necessary structural alterations, it is normally necessary to obtain professional advice from an architect, surveyor or structural engineer.
1.2.1 Planning seeks to guide the way our towns, cities and countryside develop. This includes the use of land and buildings, the appearance of buildings, landscaping considerations, highway access and the impact that the development will have on the general environment. In simple terms, planning determines whether the proposed work can be done. It is advisable for the homeowner to obtain in writing from the local authority confirmation of whether planning permission is required.
1.2.2 A loft conversion is considered to be permitted development, not requiring an application for planning permission. This is because the effect of this type of development on neighbours or the environment is likely to be small, and the government has issued a general planning permission to authorise loft conversions subject to the following limits and conditions:
- A volume allowance of 40m3 for terraced houses.
- A volume allowance of 50m3 for detached and semi-detached houses.
- No extension beyond the plane of the existing roof slope of the principal elevation that fronts the highway.
- No extension to be higher than the highest part of the roof.
- Materials to be similar in appearance to the existing house.
- No verandas, balconies or raised platforms.
- Side-facing windows to be obscure-glazed; any opening to be 1.7m above the floor.
- Roof extensions not to be permitted development in designated areas, e.g. conservation areas, world heritage sites or areas of outstanding natural beauty, a National Park or in the Broads.
- Roof extensions, apart from hip to gable ones, to be set back, as far as practicable, at least 200mm from the eaves.
1.2.3 If unsure, it is advisable for the homeowner to arrange a meeting with their designated case officer at the local planning office, who will discuss and inform accordingly whether planning permission is required for the proposals. If planning permission is necessary, a one-off fee will be required, and the following information must be submitted together with a Full (detailed) Planning Application Form. This form can be filled out on paper or online at www.planningportal.gov.uk
1.2.4 The planning process takes approximately eight weeks. Within this time frame the homeowner will be provided with a designated case officer who will visit the site, inform neighbours by letter of the proposed work, allowing them to object if they so wish, and place the application on the planning register, which allows anyone to view the application. A neighbour may object to the application if they feel the work overlooks their property.
1.2.5 The case officer will consider whether the proposals are within the development plan for the area and will normally ask for minor amendments to be made within the eight-week time frame to prevent a resubmission being required. At the end of the period the homeowner will receive one of the following:
- An approval – the plans are deemed satisfactory. The approval will usually come with several conditions, the most common being that work must start within three years of the approval date.
- A refusal – when this occurs it will come with a detailed list of issues outlining the decision to reject. There is no need for the homeowner to panic initially, however, as they can resubmit free of charge within 12 months of the rejection notice, and if the guidance within the ‘detailed list’ is followed they should be able to receive an approval at the second attempt. If the homeowner feels that resubmission is not appropriate, an alternative approach would be to appeal. Further information on this process is available from the local planning office.
1.3 BUILDING REGULATIONS
1.3.1 Building Regulations set standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health of people in or about those buildings. They also include requirements to ensure that fuel and power are conserved and facilities are provided for people, including those with disabilities, to access and move around inside buildings. Put simply, Building Regulations determine how the proposed work is done.
1.3.2 Loft conversions require Building Regulations approval if:
- They are to provide extra living accommodation.
- Roof windows are installed.
- They are to form a permanently accessible floored storage area.
- Structural members are to be removed or modified
1.3.3 To achieve compliance with the regulations, the homeowner is required to use one of two types of Building Control service:
- Local authority Building Control service.
- An approved inspector’s Building Control service.
1.3.4 The way to obtain approval will depend on whether the homeowner chooses to use the Building Control service of a local authority or an approved inspector.
1.3.5 If using a local authority, the procedures are set out in the Building Regulations. Some of these relate to pre-site procedures and others relate to procedures once work is under way on site. Two types of application for approval can be made.
- Full plans: An application deposited under this procedure needs to contain plans and other information showing all construction details, preferably well in advance of when work is to start on site. The local authority will check the plans and consult the appropriate authorities (e.g. fire and sewerage). They must complete the procedure by issuing a decision within five weeks or, if agreed, a maximum of two months from the date of deposit. If the plans comply with the Building Regulations, the homeowner will receive a notice stating that they have been approved. If the local authority is not satisfied, they may ask the homeowner to make amendments or provide more details. Alternatively, a conditional approval may be issued. This will specify further information which must be deposited on revised plans. The local authority may only apply conditions if they have been requested to do so or if the homeowner has consented to them doing so. A request or consent must be made in writing. If plans are rejected, the reasons will be stated in the notice.
A full plans approval notice is valid for three years from the date of deposit of the plans, after which time the local authority may send a notice to declare the approval of no effect if the building work has not commenced.
- Building notice: Plans are not required with this process, so it is quicker and less detailed than the full plans application. It is designed to enable some types of building work to get under way quickly, although it is perhaps best suited to small work.
If the homeowner decides to use this procedure, they need to be confident that the work will comply with the Building Regulations; otherwise they will risk having to correct any work carried out if the local authority requests this. In this respect, the homeowner does not have the protection from the prosecution process provided by the approval of ‘full plans’. If before the start of work, or while work is in progress, the local authority requires further information such as structural design calculations or plans, the homeowner must supply the details requested. A ‘building notice’ is valid for three years from the date when the notice was given to the local authority, after which time it will automatically lapse if the building work has not commenced.
1.3.6 If the homeowner chooses to engage an approved inspector, they should confirm with them the terms on which they wish to do so. The homeowner and inspector should jointly notify the appropriate local authority that the inspector is carrying out the Building Control function for the work. This notification is called an Initial Notice, and the local authority has five working days in which to raise any objections. Once this notice has been accepted by the local authority, the responsibility for plan checking and site inspection will be formally placed on the approved inspector.
An approved inspector will:
- Advise you on how the Building Regulations apply to the work.
- Check the plans.
- Issue a plans certificate (if requested).
- Inspect the work as it progresses.
- Issue a final or completion certificate.
1.3.7 There is a charge for these applications, which may vary between local authorities and approved inspectors. The homeowner should contact their local authority or approved inspector for details of these charges.
1.3.8 Where planning permission is required, it is advisable that this is obtained prior to making a Building Regulations application. If planning permission is refused and both applications were submitted with fees collectively, the homeowner will not receive a refund on the Building Regulations application.
1.3.9 Unauthorised loft conversions are illegal and may still be subject to both planning permission and Building Control after the project is completed. This is likely to make a property difficult to sell on in the future.
1.3.10 Where works are carried out without an application having been made, the owner may be prosecuted. However, to facilitate people who wish to have work approved, Building Control introduced in 1999 a new process called regularisation. A regularisation application is a retrospective application relating to previously unauthorised works – that is, works carried out without Building Regulations consent – started on or after 11 November 1985. The purpose of the process is to regularise the unauthorised works and obtain a certificate of regularisation. Depending on the circumstances, exposure, removal and/or rectification of works may be necessary to establish compliance with the Building Regulations. The homeowner should contact their local authority Building Control service to discuss their individual circumstances before submitting a regularisation application. Approved inspectors cannot carry out this function.
1.4 PARTY WALL ACT 1996
1.4.1 The Party Wall Act 1996 places certain obligations on homeowners intending to carry out work that involves the party wall/separating wall to a semi-detached or terraced property. The party wall/separating wall is illustrated by the dotted line.
1.4.2 Homeowners must determine whether the works fall within the scope of the Act, and where this is the case must arrange to serve statutory notice on all those defined by the Act as adjoining owners. They may wish to seek clarification through professional advice. Further details and the latest guide to the Party Wall Act are available on the Communities and Local Government website.