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Planning, Building & More

Frequently Asked Questions

Planning Permission

Oxfordshire is a vast county with beautiful countryside and dozens of nature reserves and parks. Most notable ones include Barton Village Nature Park, Milham Ford, Lye Valley among others.

If you’re considering buying a plot of land for the purposes of building your own home, checking the closeness to nature reserves may save you the pain often associated with a planning application in conservation areas.

The overall planning costs will vary between councils but there are elements which are similar all across England. A typical full planning application for a new build or house extension is currently £462 in Oxford and across England.

Often, a council will grant permission subject to conditions. For example landscaping or material details and you’ll be required to pay a fee of £116 for council approval.

Using the planning portal to submit documents online also comes with a fee, currently £20.

If you have bought an older home in the past and would like to make some changes, perhaps add an extension or garage conversion, it’s useful to check for past planning permission. You may find a previous owner has already carried out an extension under permitted development and so you’ll have to make a full application.

The local authorities in Oxfordshire and Oxford City all have dedicated planning departments where you can lodge your request for planning consent.

You can lodge your application in one of two ways:

  • Online via the Planning Portal website. You will complete the whole process online, including attaching relevant documents and paying applicable fees.
  • Submit a paper application form by downloading a copy from the planning portal, filling it in and sending it via post or email to the relevant council.

Most councils encourage householder applicants to get pre-application advice and most offer the services free of charge. For example, South Oxfordshire District Council offers a Pre-validation householder application checking service.

50% of planning applications by householders face delays due to missing information. You can avoid these delays by taking a pre-application checking service appointment. A registration officer will help by checking the application form, plans and any documentation you have brought to make sure there are no errors.

Note: Although a written confirmation of validity for your application is given, this does not guarantee you will receive planning consent.

Therefore, to avoid delays and potentially incurring more costs, take advantage of the pre-validation services on offer

There are two types of planning consent applications and each requires a different depth of information.

  1. Outline Planning Permission – informs the local authority of your intent to build a new home on a piece of land and gives them the opportunity to assess whether your intention falls within the planning law. You need only provide an ‘outline’ of your proposal in your application.
  2. Full Planning Permission –  contains all the detail the council will need to make a decision whether you can go ahead with an alteration or not. Examples of work which will most likely require a full application include structural changes, building in your garden, demolishing an existing building, or changing the main use of a building.

You can find more details about the Planning Requirements on the Government website.

Service levels differ between the different planning authorities but they all work towards Government service level standards. South Oxfordshire District Council, for example, has a target of resolving:

  • 60% of major planning applications within thirteen weeks of registration
  • 65% of minor planning applications within eight weeks of registration
  • 80% of other planning applications within eight weeks of registration

Although actual timescales will vary depending on the complexity of the project, planning applications in Oxford generally come to a decision within eight to thirteen weeks.

Planning Authorities refuse about 50% of planning applications by householders simply due to inadequate information on the forms, or the forms have not been completed fully.

If however, the council refuses to give planning application permission, they will tell you the reasons why. You can then either amend your application or launch and appeal. About 40% of resubmission applications later receive planning consent.

The best course of action is to go through pre-planning or seek advice with the planning permission from the start.

Congratulations, your planning application has been approved. What next? Well, you can now start work on your new build or house extension. You have 3 years to start the work and if the planning consent lapses then you’ll have to make a new application.

Sometimes planning authorities will grant you planning consent subject to ‘conditions’. It is important that you pay attention to any conditions attached to your planning permission. Failure to adhere to these conditions may lead to the withdrawal of the planning consent. Common conditions include approval of external materials before building starts or perhaps landscaping.

Once you satisfy the planning condition the planning authority will discharge the conditions and issue a letter to confirm.

This Complete Guide to Planning in Oxford offers you an overview of the planning process and everything you need to know to improve your chances of success. At Lynch Brother Homes, we can assist with your building project from start to finish. You can also find everything you need to know about planning permission by visiting the Planning Portal website here.

How to choose a Builder in Oxford

  • Firstly start by writing down all of the works you want carrying out before you ask anyone in to quote.
  • Make sure you include jobs you want doing now and potential jobs you want to do in the future as this may affect the way the first jobs are carried out. For example, if you want a two-story extension but can only afford a one-story now, foundations need to be laid.
  • You may sell in the future, check the home improvements will add rather than detract from the value of your property.
  • Are there any restrictions to works to your property, eg is it a leasehold or a listed building.
  • If a builder claims to belong to an organisation or they employ a plumber or gas engineer, check their membership is up to date.
  • Ask to visit other properties the builder has worked on, you may want to ask to speak to a previous client.
  • Do ask what insurances the builder has so you can work out if you need additional insurances.
  • Make sure you sign the contracts of work.
  • What guarantees will they give you for the work? Alert the contractor to issues they need to be aware of, eg if any of your family are asthmatic or affected by dust, as well as required start and finish times.
  • Ask for quotes to be broken down as much as possible.
  • Make sure you understand what is and isn’t included in the quotation.
  • Make sure you agree when and how you will pay. Eg “stage” payments at the end of each week or at specific stages of your ongoing project. The builder may require you to pay a deposit or upfront for materials.

Party Wall Argreement

  • A party wall is the shared wall, usually between a terrace or semi-detached house, and divides the homes of two separate owners
  • It also includes garden walls built over a boundary and excavations close to a neighbour’s property (within three or six meters, depending on the depth of the new foundations).
  • In the home, Party Wall Agreements are most commonly needed for building works that involve loft conversions, the insertion of damp proof courses and the digging of new foundations (as would be required in building an extension)
  • Before party wall building works can start, the homeowner (Building Owner) needs a written Party Wall Agreement from all affected neighbours (Adjoining Owners)
  • Or a surveyor has to be appointed to prepare a Party Wall Award (the agreed document outlining how the works should progress).
  • To start this process, the homeowner has to serve a Party Wall Notice on their neighbours, in writing, about the planned party wall works

Serving notice can be done using appropriate an party wall surveyor.  A letter of acknowledgement for the neighbour to complete and return is usually included.

A homeowner has to give two months written notice on building works which affect a party wall or boundary, or one month’s notice for excavations.

Planning permission is not needed to serve a Party Wall notice, and once notice has been served, the homeowner has up to a year to start work.

Once notice is served, a neighbour has fourteen days to respond, after which, there are three possible outcomes:

i) The neighbour gives assent in writing providing the homeowner will put right any problems

  • In such straightforward cases, there is no need to appoint a party wall surveyor or have a Party Wall Award.
  • The homeowner should take dated pictures of the party wall and ideally have agreed written notes of any cracks, with copies for both.
  • Or a surveyor could be appointed to assess and prepare a schedule of condition to minimise the risk of disputes later. This should be done shortly before the work starts.

ii) If the neighbour dissents (or if they do NOT reply within 14 days, in which case, they are assumed to have dissented), a Party Wall Award is required

  • In this case, both homeowner and neighbour can appoint ONE Agreed Surveyor, usually within ten days, who can act impartially for both.
  • The agreed surveyor should be independent and NOT the same surveyor the homeowner might be using for their own works. Otherwise, their neighbour is unlikely to view the surveyor as neutral.
  • The Agreed Surveyor produces an “Award” which details the works proposed and a schedule of condition, including pictures, of the neighbour’s home.
  • Some architects are also able to act as surveyors.

iii) Each owner appoints their own surveyor. However, this is expensive for the homeowner who is responsible for the costs of their neighbour’s surveyor as well as their own.

It is important that all these options available to the neighbour, are explained clearly in the notice.

Permitted Development?

In recent years the scope of permitted development in oxford has expanded enabling home owners to carry out home improvements and conversion projects without having to obtain planning permission.

However, current development rights can be complex and interpretations can differ between local planning departments. If you do plan to undertake work under permitted development, there are strict rules you will need to adhere to; please see more information below.

The linear approach used here is based purely on the distance an extension protrudes from the building. Maximum sizes and heights for rear and side extensions apply, regardless of the size of the original house. Owners of small houses will benefit proportionately more than those of large ones.

These rules appear to be based around the notion of a standard-house and the one-size-fits-all approach makes for some interesting outcomes when applied to ‘non-standard’ arrangements.

No extension forward of the principal elevation or side elevation facing onto and visible from a highway
Maximum depth of a single-storey rear extension of 3m for an attached house and 4m for a detached house
Maximum depth of a rear extension of more than one storey of 3m including ground floor
Maximum eaves height of extension 3m within 2m of boundary
Maximum eaves and ridge height of extension no higher than existing house
Side extensions to be single storey with maximum height of 4m and width no more than half that of the original house
Two-storey extensions no closer than 7m to rear boundary or existing rear wall if closer than seven metres to boundary
Roof pitch of extensions higher than one storey to match existing house
Side-facing windows above one storey to be obscure-glazed; top opening allowed
Materials to match existing house
Maximum 50 per cent coverage of garden

Loft conversions have never needed planning permission, it’s only externally visible works altering or extending a roof that do. As with extensions, restrictions for this type of project rely on calculations of volume.

Roof extensions must start a minimum of 20cm above the eaves, while PD allows for external roof alterations like solar panels and protruding rooflights on front-facing roof elevations, except, inevitably, in designated areas.

40 cu m loft extension for terraced houses
50 cu m loft extension for semi-detached/detached houses
Extensions must start a minimum of 0.2m above the eaves to maintain the visual appearance of a roof line
No extension beyond the plane of the existing roof slope fronting the highway
No extension to be higher than the ridge
No raised terraces, verandas or balconies
Side-facing windows to be obscure-glazed; top opening allowed
Permitted development rules for roof alterations:
Alterations should not project more than 150mm from the existing roof plane
No automatic right to build above the ridge of the building
No restriction on the percentage of the roof that can be altered

PD legislation specifies a maximum eaves height as well as ridge height restrictions for gardens, and, importantly, overall limits on the amount (in square metres) of outbuildings allowed before a need for planning permission kicks in. With the limits set at 20m square metres for smaller gardens and 30 square metres for larger, this is a radical reduction in previous allowances.

The reference to a limit of 10 square metres for outbuildings, garages and swimming pools more than 20 metres from the house in designated areas is an interesting one. What kind of garage or swimming pool has a footprint of 10 square metres – that’s say 5 metres by 2 metres – who would build a garage that barely offers enough room for a car before the doors are opened, or a pool not much bigger than a bath?

No outbuilding, garage or swimming pool forward of the principal elevation
Outbuildings and garages to be single storey with maximum eaves height 2.5m and maximum overall height of 4m with a dual pitched roof (3m with mono-pitched roof)
Maximum height 2.5m within 2m of boundary
Maximum coverage of garages and outbuildings 30 sq m if garden covers more than 100 sq m or 20 sq m if the garden is less than 100 sq m
No raised terraces, verandas or balconies to be added to the house
Maximum 50 per cent coverage of garden
Agricultural conversions
New revisions to permitted development rights came into force on the 6th April 2018, providing more options to convert agricultural buildings into family homes. Introduced by Housing Minister Dominic Raab, the rules were introduced to ease rural housing pressures by increasing the number of properties that can be developed from existing agricultural buildings.

Previously, planning regulations limited the number to three properties, but the new amendments have now raised the maximum to allow conversions of up to five new homes.
Permitted development rules for agricultural conversions:
up to three larger homes within a maximum of 465 square metres or
up to five smaller homes each no larger than 100 square metres or
a mix of both, within a total of no more than five homes, of which no more than three may be larger homes
Remember, even if changes to your house don’t need planning permission, they probably need Building Regulations approval. Always check before you start work!

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