“Without the expertise and knowledge of Miss Boultby, I would not have received the expert advice and resulting permission and I cannot thank her enough for her fabulous work in this matter.”
Ms A. West, Nottinghamshire

Planning Services

Knowing the Law

It is much harder to resolve planning issues when help is brought in part-way through the application process and would recommend advice is sought early by engaging the assistance of both consultant and local authority. For example, investing in the enhancement of a neglected or contaminated site can be used as leverage in certain cases, but not if an applicant has already cleared the site before the application is submitted. Some applications rely on certain criteria being met and we will work with you to form an accurate and credible planning statement to support and justify the development, showing how it meets the policy requirements.

The message is clear, get some advice before you do anything.

Class Q barn conversions

Another common issue is with class 'Q' barn conversions. The rules are incredibly strict and the legislation not easy to understand. The government has brought out updates and informatives that subtly alter the reading of the act, and it is essential that every aspect of the application is thoroughly evidenced if you want to persuade a planning authority that your old barn is an ideal location for a new home. One common pitfall is that an application will fail if you have carried out any works permitted as agricultural development to the building within the last ten years, but exactly what does this mean? The precedence of past appeals and other case law can really help you to build an application that will be successful. An application may also fail if there is any sign of residential use, even for storage of an old sofa. The building needs to look and feel right before the authority visit, and you need to know if there will be any substantial local opposition.

New Dwellings

In the countryside

Many people have the dream of making a new home in the countryside, but our beautiful rural landscapes are rightly protected from large developments, unless approved in a local authority plan. This does not mean it is impossible to ever build a new house, but we would need to make a careful assessment of the site, your needs, the local legislation and any national policies before deciding how to proceed. There are a number of ways forwards and the following is only a brief summary.

Agricultural worker's dwelling

The provision of new housing for agricultural workers has been around for a long time and there is a wealth of case history now governing its implementation. Long gone are the days when a racehorse could be placed in a field and a house justified on the grounds of 'security', although interestingly a pepper farm did recently secure permission on the basis that the peppers needed constant warmth and monitoring.

If you are thinking of taking this route then you need to be prepared to demonstrate that you have a viable rural business and that there is no alternative accommodation in the area that you could use instead. Many local authorities have their own variations of this policy in their local plans and it is important to be familiar with local as well as national policy.

Forester's accommodation

If the site contains a substantial area of woodland, or even if you are intending to plant one, then there are certain permitted development rights that exist for buildings reasonably necessary for the intended use. This can include the siting of up to three caravans. The definition of a caravan is more than might be expected, and can include a reasonable sized mobile home or cabin. The key is its portability. They cannot, however, be occupied all year round, and how long is reasonable depends on a number of factors, including whether you are using the woodland as a serious commercial venture, albeit for timber extraction or processing into paperweights. The small plots sold off by some national agents may be eligible for the siting of a caravan, but not for any substantial occupation. Each case needs to be argued on its own merits.

Replacement dwelling

While each authority will have its own rules regarding enlargement of a rebuild, this is undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to create a dream home. It is also one of the most expensive, as even poor quality rural housing is priced to reflect the demand. However, if you have a poor quality dwelling in a beautiful site that you are thinking of selling then you should talk to us about gaining permission before you sell, as we may be able to substantially increase the value of the plot. Or if you have just bought one, and want some thoughts about rebuilding, extending, or adapting, then we are happy to offer an initial consultation.

Paragraph 79 house

This national policy is the latest in a long line of similar policies that were intended to allow the continuation of the tradition of the English country house. While it is still a costly option, the test is now based more on achieving outstanding or innovative design, and substantial benefit to the environment. It takes time and cooperation to build the case, and many consultants and design review panels may be required to persuade a local authority or planning inspector that you have achieved the high standards that this clause requires. But it is not impossible!

Low impact dwelling

A few forward thinking local authorities have specific local plan policies permitting low-impact dwellings, typically meaning yurts, benders, or small straw bale structures without foundations. However, the tests are rigorous and the land has to be sited where the development will not bother anyone and with suitable transport and other services. Very few of these applications get through, but this is often because people occupy a site before researching the planning law, rather than selecting a site guided by the local policies.

The 4-Year rule

If you create a new house, without concealment or deception, and no enforcement action is taken within four years, then none can be taken, and you can apply for a certificate of lawfulness. But a curious reading of the law suggests that you must build the house to be something else, establish this alternative use, and then change the use to be a house! Self-builders have in the past been caught out by just this issue.

Caravans take ten years as this is a change of use of the land not a new dwelling as such, but there has been a lack of clarity over exactly what constitutes a caravan, and when it becomes a building. Local authorities may take differing views of this depending on local interests.

The risk of trying to achieve a house through this route is clearly huge, and some authorities, for example the Dartmoor National Park, have specific policies preventing any subsequent extension or development of the site. The phrase 'without deception' is also important as some important test cases have shown that hiding your new house in straw bales for four years does not give you the right to occupation. If feel that you have achieved this status already, then you should talk to an expert before applying for a certificate of lawfulness as there are many subtle pitfalls that have caught people out over the years, including the failure to separate the electricity metering from a neighbour's house (thereby implying that it is not a separate dwelling).

Private Traveller sites

There have been a number of successful applications for very small scale private traveller sites, for example for two bow-top wagons, particularly in regions where the authority has not demonstrated that they have met local targets. Careful local research and analysis of the site, road connections, flood risk, and particularly the success of other applications in the region are all important.

You also need to demonstrate that you are actually a traveller, which has a particular definition set out by central government.

Planning Services


If your application is rejected then you usually have a right to appeal to the Secretary of State, who will appoint an inspector to determine the application on the basis of current planning policy. There are a number of different channels that this can take, including exchange of written evidence, a hearing, or a full public enquiry. The process is technically free, although you may have to pay for consultants to prepare and present your case.

The process does not usually bring results where the application has been refused on clear grounds of not meeting local or national policy, but it can be useful where an officer has ignored an important policy, or interpreted a particular policy in a way that needs further scrutiny. For example, a local plan may prohibit development that would be 'overbearing' on a neighbour, yet fails to give any definition of the term. Or there may be a discrepancy between the views of an officer that a 'modern style' is inappropriate for a given site, in contradiction to a local design guide that supports modern architecture.

One very common reason for appeal on Listed Building Applications is the difficult balance between perceived harm to the building and the possible public benefit that would accrue. For example, a major restoration of a listed building may only be viable if it is substantially extended (causing possible harm), yet the viability is required to fund the costly restoration (public benefit). These issues require careful appraisal by experienced heritage consultants if they are to carry any weight at appeal. If appointed at the outset, we can carry out a Heritage Appraisal of your Listed property and submit a properly justified Statement of Significance, arguing the benefits of the development. We will work with the local conservation officer to try and achieve a positive outcome long before an appeal becomes necessary.

Usually, a planning appeal will be successful where an applicant has looked carefully at the reasons for refusal and can present new evidence, including case precedence, that support their interpretation of policy and demonstrate that there will be little harm from permitting the development. 

Talk to Us

It is always best to seek advice at an early stage. We are happy to chat through your requirements initially in a short phonecall. If you would like a longer telephone consultation or a meeting, we will discuss our fees with you for taking things further.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this page costitutes legal or planning advice. All comments are intended simply to start a discussion, and we invite you to talk to one of our experts about your individual case. Every situation is different, and apparently trivial details can make a substantial difference to the success of any planning application.

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159 The Space
Dartington Hall
Totnes TQ9 6EL


Phone: 01803 865760