Beginner’s Guide to Planning Permission

Build It Live is the perfect place to come to find the answers to your questions, speak to industry experts and gain the knowledge and inspiration you need to make your project a success. Before you come along, gain some top tips below – put together by the experts at Build It magazine.

Planning permission basics

Finding the right plot for your self build requires careful consideration and imagination. It needs to be suitable for your intended house but, given the uncertainties of the planning process, you’re also going to need a clear understanding of your design priorities.

Below we explore the key planning areas to consider, to ensure the land you buy can be built on.

Plots & considerations

The most appropriate plot is one that’ll enable you to build the house you desire. It might sound simple, but you’ll need to be certain that you’ll be able to gain planning permission for it. You might be lucky enough to find a site with consent for your ideal property already in place, but in practice that’s fairly unlikely.

For starters, set a budget and define your area of search, as well as the size and type of house you’d like to build. Also think carefully about your priorities and what areas of the design you’d be willing to compromise on.

If you’re too rigid with your idea of the perfect home – size, shape and design – it’s likely to prove restrictive when it comes to finding a plot that suits your vision. You don’t need a detailed understanding of the planning system in order to find the right plot, but it helps to know the basics.

Planning restrictions

The first thing to be aware of is planning designations, such as conservation areas, green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). In these zones you’re likely to encounter restrictive policies.

You can find out about any designations on the planning policy section of your council’s website, where they should be shown on maps attached to their Local Plan. This should highlight built-up zones where construction is allowed and the areas designated as countryside.

The second thing to be aware of is what planners call site specific issues. These concern things like whether the plot has a safe access route, the relationship with neighbouring properties, the styles of nearby houses, ecological constraints and flood risk. These considerations will likely be included in the policies of the Local Plan.

Planning decisions are meant to be made primarily with reference to the Local Plan, so it pays to read your council’s housing and design policies in advance.

Plots without planning permission

Essentially, if land doesn’t have planning permission in place then it’s not a building plot. However, it might have the potential to become one.

Most cheap, small sites being sold for tempting sums (£25,000 or less) aren’t and are never likely to become viable plots, so don’t waste your time or money. Even if the land has potential, avoid completing your purchase until you have formal consent to build.

Plots with planning permission

If you find the right plot, but it already has detailed consent for a house that you aren’t keen on, then don’t worry. You can change the existing approval by amending it or submitting a new application.

If you take this path, then it’s important to look carefully at the permission details online to see what was said about the original application. For instance, were there any earlier designs that were rejected?

Take a look at the officer’s report and the conditions on the permission document for anything that might prevent you from building your dream home. It will give you clues as to the sort of house the council considers acceptable. Check the conditions attached to the permission, too, because they might restrict the size, height or position of the house.

Planning in principle is a new kind of permission that you might also stumbled upon. You’re most likely to encounter this on larger, multiple plot sites. Look at the application to see if any ideas regarding site layout and house designs have been considered.

Making a planning application

The UK’s National Planning Policy Framework sets out government policy for England, which individual Local Plans and planning decisions are supposed to follow.

The framework places considerable emphasis on making the best use of available land for housing, including building at higher densities. This is helpful if you’re looking to maximise your small site, but not so much if you wanted to build a single home on a large plot that could accommodate multiple properties.

To maximise the size of house you can build on a site, it can pay to approach it in steps. It can be difficult for a council to resist small, incremental increases to a permitted design.

Permitted development

Another option is to build your house and then extend it. However, it’s common for councils to impose a condition on planning permission that removes any permitted development rights to extend later on, but this doesn’t always happen.

Planning permission granted at appeal are less likely to have such a condition in place. However, if you go down this route you’ll have to finish your build, move in and then make use of your permitted development rights.

Finally, if you’re not sure about the potential of a plot, take guidance from a planning professional or seek pre-application advice from the local council. Neither can give you certainty about what you might achieve, but they will be able to give you guidance around potential and risks.

How Build It Live Can Help

So, how can you benefit from a visit to Build It Live? Well, at the show, we’ll have experts on hand all weekend, providing advice on everything from planning permission to design – and much more.

Ask Our Experts

Don’t miss the chance to book a one-to-one appointment with one of our experts, at the Ask Out Experts lounge. Bring your plans, if you have some, and don’t forget your list of questions. They’ll be able to provide you with personalised advice and give you all the information you need – on planning and more.

Seminars & Workshops

We’ll also have dedicated seminars on each day, covering a variety of essential self build and renovation topics, including How to find land and getting planning permission.

A range of industry experts and suppliers will also be taking to the Workshop Theatre stage, to host a range of talks. These workshops cover all kinds of important topics and vary at each show, so keep an eye on the schedule.


At every Build It Live show you’ll be able to meet hundreds of suppliers and companies, browse thousands of products and gain the advice and inspiration you need. Explore our full list of Exhibitors here and make a list of all the companies you’d like to meet during your trip.

Explore our full show line-up today and start planning your visit.