01652 241160/01652 679038

Planning and Building Regulations Pitfalls

Planning and Building Regulations are issues that come up time and again when buying a property. Many Mortgage companies either withhold part of the mortgage or refuse to lend on properties with this kind of issue. The property you have your heart set on may be a regulatory nightmare. Here we will take a look at some common issues.

This is a very open and honest run down of what we regularly find when surveying properties. Hopefully this will help you also understand why having a surveyor who is also a Chartered Building Engineer sets us apart and why this is important.

Planning Permission.

Many people have an understanding about Permitted Development whereby a homeowner is allowed small extensions such as porches, conservatories or single storey extensions. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule. We would always recommend that you check with the local Planning Department about any extension or alteration on a property even if you think it should come under Permitted Development rights. The most common issues that we find is that the building had already reached its Permitted Development rights limit or that the property had no Permitted Development rights in the first place. Removed Permitted Development rights happens when the developer wanted to overpopulate the original site with properties. The Planning Department is then left with no option but to stop the already small gardens being built on to prevent the housing estate becoming even more overcrowded.

When the Permitted Development (PD) has been removed from the property it means that Planning Permission needs to be obtained for even small things like porches, conservatories and small extensions. Without checking whether the property has its PD many homeowners go ahead and add a conservatory without even knowing they should have got Planning Permission.

This is not intended to replace Planning advice and we always recommend checking on the Planning Portal website for detailed information.

Building Regulations

The number of times I get asked how long a regulation has been around is phenomenal. Many are shocked that some regulations were born out of the Great Fire of London! Building Regulations are not new, and that they are only minimum standards not best practice.

Illegal works! The term "illegal works" is used because carrying out controlled building work without an application to the Local Authority or Approved Inspector is a breach of the Building Act 1984. The most common responses are that "the previous owner did it" or the "builder didn't tell me". The answer to both is unfortunately the owner of the property is responsible for the property. When you buy a property, you take on all the risks and liabilities associated with it. It does not matter if the work was done 3 owners ago. Builders will carry out the works you ask them to. It is not the builders' job to check whether you obtained the right permissions. Changing the ownership of a property with illegal works does not make the work legal.

So, with that out of the way, let's look at some common issues and how they come about.

Just about the most common illegal works that are carried out are;

  1. Non thermally separate conservatories and porches

  2. Garage conversions

  3. Loft conversions

  4. Chimney breast removal

This is not an exhaustive list and I have seen many more examples than this including entire houses built without Building Regulations approval to be there.


I am not going to go into the fine details of what makes a conservatory exempt Building Regulations (BR) here. The best place for full advice is on the Planning Portal website. The regulations are ever changing but bear in mind that a property only has to meet the regulations of time it was built or when the alteration was made. To be an exempt conservatory or porch it has to have thermally separating doors between it and the rest of the house. If it does not have external grade doors between the house and the conservatory or porch then it is an overly glazed extension requiring Building Regulations.

Many people have read or heard somewhere that conservatories and porches are exempt but there are caveats. Some people are aware of the requirement to keep them thermally separate and once the installers have gone they take the doors off. I have been to many properties where the homeowner happily says that the doors for the conservatory are in the garage and will just pop them back on!

You may notice with no doors separating the conservatory that the current homeowner has additional heaters in the room. This is because the heat loss through conservatory windows is huge. These properties will overheat in summer and cost a fortune to heat in winter.

This one is thermally separate. Note the solid roof. It used to be a requirement for the definition of a conservatory to have a glazed roof. This requirement was removed and now putting solid roofs on conservatories has become a booming business as homeowners want to make the space more habitable.

2. Garage Conversions.

Garage conversions are generally exempt Planning Permission but not Building Control. They are not complicated projects, but the most common mistake is a lack of insulation. It tends to be obvious very quickly that a garage conversion has no insulation and installing it after the works have been completed can basically mean starting again. Getting it right the first time is paramount.

  • Make sure its insulated,

  • Make sure it has a means of escape if it is only accessed through another room,

  • Make sure any services such as gas meters are properly protected,

  • Make sure the brickwork blocking up where the garage door was is insulated and has a lapped DPC.

It's as simple as that. Getting it wrong means stripping out plasterboard, lifting floors or replacing the window.

3. Loft Conversions.

Loft conversions, room in the roof, study, accessible storage, hobby space, play area. It is not the name of the works that makes it controlled works, it is what work was carried out to the roof. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or in the case of loft conversions, structural alterations to your roof construction not carried out correctly would be just as dangerous if you called it storage.

The biggest things to remember are that the roof structure is built to hold up the roof. Sounds silly when put like that. The roof construction was designed to hold the weight of the roof tiles plus a factor of safety for snow and wind loading. The ceiling joists are meant to tie the roof together to prevent roof spread and to hold up the insulation and plasterboard. They are not designed for walking on. Once sections of the roof structure are removed to open the space up then there has to be a structural compensation to ensure the roof does not collapse. The ceiling joists need to be upgraded and generally some steels are required to prevent roof spread. Insulation has to be factored in so check this before you start because the loss of headroom from the deeper floor and ceiling may make the whole project unviable.

Once you have the structure sorted out then we need to think access. Remember, it's OK to have a ladder if its storage but the loft space has to be unmistakably not habitable. No, plasterboard, carpet etc. If it's for an office, playroom, bedroom etc then it needs to be not only accessible by a staircase but also have a protected means of escape. A protected means of escape is that the loft space opens into a corridor and not out of another room, the bedroom and living room doors on first and ground floor need to be fire doors and the staircase should lead to a final exit. ie. not discharge to a living room or open plan habitable area.

It all sounds so easy but the number of properties that have illegal loft conversions is larger than you would expect. A big tell-tale is when the estate agents' details list the space as storage. This generally means they know it is not done to regulations because being able to list the property with an extra bedroom would have increased the value.

The regulations on loft conversions have changed many times over the years and you cannot apply today's regulations to an older property. Having someone experienced in the old and new regulations is important if you are considering buying a property with a loft conversion. We can help you understand what needs to be done to meet the regulations of the time it was carried out and whether or not it is possible to achieve.

Book your survey

Get a quote