This page of our website contains some useful information about getting planning permission for new homes. We’ve designed this page for professionals and amateurs alike. You may or may not have a specific site in mind.

Use the drop-downs to find out more about getting permission for new homes.

What type of planning application do I need?

The short answer is, it depends. Most applications for new housebuilding are made in full or outline. You can find out more about these application types by clicking on the buttons below. The preferred approach will depend on the specifics of the case, including the location of the site and the number of houses involved. 

There are also some options to convert existing buildings to new houses via permitted development rights. For example, there is a permitted development right to convert certain commercial buildings such as shops and offices to houses. There are still a number of rules that must be followed and a different type of planning application, known as a prior approval application, will be required. Click the buttons below to find out more about permitted development rights and prior approval applications.

If you instruct Planning Direct to assist you with a planning application for new housebuilding, we will advise you on the available application types (and the pros and cons of each) so that you can make an informed decision about how best to proceed. 

If you need help getting permission for new homes, call us on 01473 407911 or send us details of your project using the button below. Our initial advice is always free of charge.

How do I choose a site?

If you don’t already have a site in mind, you can greatly increase the chances of your planning application being approved by selecting the right site. 

As a general rule, sites in built-up urban and suburban areas will be appropriate for new housebuilding. This is especially the case if the area is already residential in character. 

The following features will also greatly increase the chances of an application for new housing being approved:

  • Existing houses lie on at least two sides of the plot
  • The site already contains 1 or more houses
  • There is a pavement, a footpath or a cyclepath to and from the site
  • There are local services and facilities (such as shops, recreation grounds and filling stations) within walking distance (approx. 800 metres)
  • Planning permission has recently been granted for new housing in the area
  • The site has been allocated for housing in a Local Plan (we can help you to investigate this).

Generally speaking, the following features will reduce the likelihood that an application for new housing would be approved:

  • The site is in an area with a firmly non-residential character, such as a working industrial estate
  • The site is in the open countryside, away from any settlement*
  • There are no local services or facilities (such as shops, recreation grounds and filling stations) within walking distance (approx. 800 metres)
  • Planning permission has recently been refused for new housing in the area because of its location.

*There are various notable exceptions to this rule. We address new housing in the countryside in more detail below. 

However, all planning applications require the decision-maker to conduct an objective balancing exercise. This is known as applying the “planning balance” (more on this below) and it means that all the positive impacts of granting planning permission for the new housing development must be weighed against the negative impacts of doing so. We discuss some common positive and negative impacts associated with new housing developments in more detail below. 

Provided you can secure enough positive impacts (such as affordable housing) to outweigh any negative impacts (such as an unfavourable site location), your application for new housing will stand a very good chance of success.

Once I have a site, how do I decide how many houses to apply for?

A key part of the initial design process is to work out how many houses a site can accommodate. To work out numbers, you need to take account of a variety of factors, including:

The existing character of the area

For example, is housing high or low density? Are you surrounded by terraced streets, spacious detached properties or a mix?

Site constraints

For example, are there listed buildings, protected trees or wildlife habitats to work around?

Minimum housing standards

For example, will bedrooms, kitchens, gardens etc. be large enough and laid out appropriately? 

Amenity standards

For example, are all houses in the area (new and old) able to receive enough daylight and is overlooking of neighbours avoided?

Access requirements

For example, does the site access have good enough visibility and width to safely accommodate the likely number of residents’ cars?

National and local planning policies and objectives

For example, are you in an area where increased housing densities are supported or encouraged? If your site is allocated in the Local Plan, how many houses is it allocated for?

Planning Direct provides a bespoke design guidance service to include calculation of housing numbers. Click on the button below to find out more about what our design guidance can offer you.

Once I have a site, how do I go about designing a new housing scheme?

The detailed design of the site will depend on various factors, including all of those relevant to working out house numbers (see above). 

Many Local Planning Authorities (that’s normally your local council) will have detailed policies and guidance documents that tell you what form and style new housing developments should take. For example, there may be local policies addressing all of the below matters and more:

  • Housing mix (e.g. 30% 2-bed, 30% 3-bed and 40% 4-bed+)
  • Size and layout of gardens
  • Separation distances between houses
  • Architectural approach (e.g. traditional or contemporary)
  • Sustainability and accessibility measures (e.g. level thresholds, cycle parking)
  • Detailed design (e.g. size, proportion and materials of windows).

The more policies you comply with, the greater the chances that your planning application will be approved. 

Generally speaking, there will be a lesser requirement to comply with local policies in areas that are already of limited built and architectural quality. In those circumstances, councils are more likely to approve non-compliant development as long as it makes some improvement to the area.

In high-quality and sensitive built environments – such as in Conservation Areas, in the setting of listed buildings and in well-preserved quaint rural villages – new housing developments are likely to be held to the highest design standards. 

Planning Direct provides a bespoke design guidance service to include research of local design policy requirements. Click on the button below to find out more about what our design guidance can offer you.

How do I get planning permission for new housing in the countryside?

If your site is in the countryside, there are greater limitations on new housebuilding. As a general rule, local councils are encouraged to direct the majority of their new housing growth towards existing urban and suburban settlements. However, they still need to ensure that existing rural communities (whether these are larger villages or more modest hamlets) are able to survive and thrive. That means granting permission for enough new houses to keep these settlements viable but not so many that it overwhelms them.

Consequently, applications for new housing are approved on a daily basis throughout all rural areas of the UK. Often, this is thanks to “exceptional” national and local policies that support certain types of houses in most types of rural areas. 

For example, there is a national policy that supports the construction of rural workers’ dwellings in the countryside and another one that allows the conversion of redundant or disused rural buildings to housing.

Similarly, there is national policy support for rural exception sites. These are small affordable housing schemes on sites that would not normally be approved for market housing. Rural exception sites are normally allowed to include a portion of market housing so they can still be very profitable for developers.

Local councils are also able to introduce positive rural housing policies at the local level. For example, some councils have rural cluster housing policies. These allow new houses to be added to established groups of houses in the open countryside. The rural cluster policy in your area might specify how large the existing group needs to be (e.g. groups of 5 or more houses only) or restrict how the new site can be positioned in relation to the existing houses (e.g. houses must already exist on at least two sides of the new plot). 

In the more rural parts of the country, you may also be surprised by what constitutes a settlement. Even very small villages and hamlets are frequently provided with defined settlement limits within which new housebuilding is allowed. This is more likely to be the case if the settlement contains services and facilities like shops, schools and pavements.

If there is no national or local policy support for your rural housing project, all is not necessarily lost. Whilst the location of your site is likely to be considered a negative impact, you could still overcome this by securing enough positive impacts to tilt the planning balance back in your favour. You can find out more about the planning balance and some of the common positive and negative impacts associated with new housebuilding below. 

What is “housing land supply” and why is it relevant?

Every Local Planning Authority in the UK (that’s normally your local council) is strictly required to demonstrate a minimum five-year housing land supply at all times. If a local council doesn’t have a five-year housing land supply, applications for new housing in their area are more likely to be approved.

Housing land supply

Local councils must have a stock of “deliverable” housing sites that is large enough to meet at least five years’ worth of their housing need.  “Deliverable” housing sites are mostly made up of sites that already have planning permission for new housing and sites allocated for new housing in the Local Plan.

Housing need

The housing need of each local council is typically calculated using national household growth projections (based on expected new births, deaths, migration etc.). These figures are then adjusted using a set methodology to provide as accurate a measurement of local need as possible.

Consequences when a council does not have a five-year housing land supply

If a local council has enough deliverable housing sites to meet their five-year housing need, then they have a “five-year housing land supply”. If a local council does not have at least five years’ worth of deliverable housing sites, there are serious consequences.

The main consequence is that the tilted balance (more on this below) is automatically engaged and all local policies concerned with the supply and location of new housing must be considered out-of-date (more on this below also).

This means new housing applications that conflict with one or more local housing policies (e.g. on location or housing mix) are far more likely to be approved, especially if they make a decent contribution towards meeting the local housing supply deficit.

In addition, applications for housing in areas with less than a five-year housing land supply automatically secure a positive impact – their contribution towards meeting the local housing deficit – that housing applications in other areas do not (more on positive impacts below). 

The weight given to the positive impact will depend on the contribution the development makes towards the local housing deficit. For example:

A local council has a five-year housing need for 550 homes. They have a five-year housing land supply of 470 homes. This is a deficit of 80 homes.

In this scenario:

  • An application for 80 new homes would be given substantial positive weight as it would get rid of the local housing deficit
  • An application for 1 or 2 homes would be given modest positive weight as it would only make a small contribution towards the local housing deficit
  • An application for 2,200 new homes would be given substantial negative weight as it would deliver around 20 years’ worth of local housing need at one time on one site (not good planning!)

Every year, the government publishes data on local councils, their housing needs and their housing land supplies. This includes a calculation of what percentage of their housing need (%) each local council has delivered over the previous three years. You can access the government’s most recent Housing Delivery Test using the button below.

What are “out-of-date” planning policies and why are they relevant?

National planning policy is contained in one document, called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is a fairly short planning document, containing around 223 different paragraphs (or policies). It’s supposed to be used by professionals and amateurs alike which means it’s written in a fairly straightforward manner without too much jargon. It’s also updated frequently, most recently in 2021. Click on the button below to access a PDF copy for free.

The NPPF contains very general policies on all of the key parts of planning, including:

  • Housing supply and new housebuilding
  • Economic growth and commercial development
  • Design
  • Green Belt and the natural environment
  • The historic environment
  • Climate change and sustainability. 

Local Plans are written by local councils. They still cover the same topics as the NPPF but the policies are more detailed and local in flavour. It’s helpful to think of the NPPF as the main umbrella, with all Local Plans nestled beneath it. 

Local Plans can contain policies that add detail to the NPPF but they can’t overrule or overwrite it. The technical term for this is that Local Plans must be “in general accordance” with the NPPF.

For example, the NPPF requires high quality design but it doesn’t go into much detail about how to achieve that. Local Plans will normally provide more detail about what high quality design in their area should look like. This makes sense when you think about it as good design in one location might not look so good somewhere else.

If a policy in a Local Plan is not in general accordance with the NPPF, it should be considered out-of-date. If it is only slightly inconsistent with the NPPF, it will be considered only slightly out-of-date. If it is very inconsistent with the NPPF, it will be considered very out-of-date.

For example, the NPPF currently states that affordable housing should not be required for minor housing applications, unless they are in designated rural areas. 

Consequently, both of the following Local Plan policies would be considered out-of-date:

Policies can be considered out-of-date for a number of other reasons. Most significantly, all local policies concerned with the supply and location of new housing should be considered out-of-date if the council has less than a five-year housing land supply (more on this above). 

Out-of-date policies are given far less weight in planning decisions. The more out-of-date the planning policy, the less weight it attracts. 

This means that applications for housing that conflict with out-of-date local policies still stand a very good chance of approval. In these cases, it will still be expected that the development is in general accordance with the NPPF.

What is the “planning balance” and what is the “tilted balance” and why are they relevant?

The planning balance and the tilted balance are relevant, mainly, because they provide a clear (and well-used) route to securing planning permission for new housing when local planning policies are not supportive. 

Planning balance

All decisions on planning applications should be based on an objective balancing exercise. This is known as applying the “planning balance”.

It is established by law that planning applications should be refused if they conflict with the Local Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise

Click the button below to find out more about material planning considerations, including what they are and what they include.

In non-planning speak, this basically just means that the positive impacts of a development should be balanced against its negative impacts.

Conflict with Local Plan policies will always be a negative impact. If the policies are up-to-date, that negative impact will be given a lot of weight. However, if they’re out-of-date, the weight given to the negative impact will be seriously reduced.

No matter what the negative impacts are, if your application manages to secure enough positive impacts (of sufficient weight) to tilt the planning balance in your favour, planning permission should be granted. 

Tilted balance

The “tilted balance” is similar to the normal planning balance but it is only engaged in exceptional circumstances, including where:

  • relevant local policies are out-of-date
  • the council has less than a five-year housing land supply. 

In the most basic sense, the tilted balance is a version of the planning balance that is already tilted in the applicant’s favour. If the tilted balance applies, planning permission should normally be granted unless the negative impacts “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh the positive impacts. 

For example:

If an application has five negative impacts of moderate weight and five positive impacts of moderate weight and the planning balance applies, the application should normally be refused.

If the tilted balance applied to the same application, it should normally be approved.

What are some common positive and negative impacts associated with new housebuilding? 

There are a number of positive and negative impacts that are commonly associated with new housebuilding. Some common impacts appear in the table below. The relevance of an impact and weight to be given to it will vary depending on the specifics of the application and the local planning context (for example: are local policies out-of-date? Is there a dire local need for affordable houses?). 

You should also be aware that there are various neutral impacts that are commonly mistaken for positive impacts. For example, conflict with planning policies is a negative impact, whereas accordance with planning policies is a neutral impact. 

Similarly, positive impacts must go above and beyond minimum policy requirements. For example, if there is a policy that requires at least 10% of a site’s houses to be affordable, providing 10% of its total houses as affordable units would be a neutral impact rather than a positive one. You would need more than 10% of the units to be affordable in order to secure a positive impact. The greater the proportion of affordable homes (above 10%), the more weight will be given to the positive impact. 

The same is true of all other impacts, including biodiversity and landscape enhancements – you must go above and beyond minimum policy requirements in order to transform the impact from neutral to positive.

What if planning permission is refused for my housing application? 

Planning permission for new housing schemes can be refused for various, uncountable reasons. The appropriate course of action in response to a planning refusal will depend on the application you’ve submitted, the reasons your council has given for its refusal and the local planning context. 

Your two main options are:

  • Revise the application and resubmit it to your local council
  • Appeal against the council’s refusal. 

Click the button below to find out more about planning appeals and their benefits.

If Planning Direct has submitted your planning application and it has been refused, we will take the time to discuss the outcome with you and provide options for a route forward wherever possible. 

Generally speaking, it is easiest to resolve design-based reasons for refusal. If your application has been refused on design grounds only, a revised design (potentially reducing the total residential units) is normally enough to overcome this.

If you’ve recently received a planning refusal and you’re in need of some advice on how best to proceed, please get in touch using the button below. Our initial advice is always free of charge.

Back to top