Frequently asked questions

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Here you will find answers to some general planning questions.  There are more specific FAQs under the Do I Need Planning Permission, Planning Enforcement and Trees and Woodlands sections on our website.

What do I need planning permission for?

Planning permission may be required for any material change of use of land or buildings and building or other construction works. Please see the section on our website, Do I need planning permission or the government’s Planning Portal.  Some works can be carried out under permitted development rights (see below), without the need for planning permission. However, other consents may be required such as under the Building Regulations, Landlords or Party Wall Consent.


Where can I find out about householder permitted development rights?

If you live in a house, you may normally carry out a number of minor forms of development without the need to apply for formal planning permission. This is known as ‘permitted development’. Permitted development limits are set by Parliament and apply nationally. This does not apply to flats, maisonettes or mobile homes, as they do not have any permitted development rights.

The planning history of your property must be checked before undertaking any external alterations, in order to determine whether permitted development rights have been removed by the Council as the Local Planning Authority on the original planning permission for your house. These rights will also be affected if the property has previously been extended. 

Alternatively, if you live in a relatively new property, such as the Napsbury, Jersey Farm or Hill End/Cell Barnes Lane developments, permitted development rights may have been removed by a planning condition. 

This information should be with your Deeds. If not, you can check the planning history and any decisions that relate to your property by using our Local Information Service.

Permitted development limits can also be affected depending on where you live. If you live in an Article 4 Direction Area, such as Fishpool Street, most of your permitted development rights will have been removed. 

Permitted development limits will also be different if your house is a listed building or you live in a conservation area.

The full text of the householder permitted development rights legislation can be found here.

You can ask the Council to confirm whether or not you need planning permission by submitting an application for a certificate of lawfulness.

Do I need planning permission for a vehicular crossover or access?

For any works to form or alter a vehicular or pedestrian access to a road, including a dropped kerb, St Albans City & District Council and Hertfordshire County Council may both need to be involved.

You will need planning permission from the District Council if the proposal is on a Classified Road.  You can find out if the road is classified at the Gazeteer of Hertfordshire Roads.

Irrespective of the need for planning permission, any works to a Public Highway such as altering the verge or pavement or providing a dropped kerb will require separate permission from the Highway Authority. Details can be obtained from the Highways Authority - Permission for a dropped kerb

Alterations to vehicular or pedestrian access arrangements to commercial and other non-domestic premises will almost certainly require planning permission.

Planning permission is generally not required for hard surfaces within the garden of a dwelling, except in the area between the front elevation and the highway. Permission is not required if the area does not exceed five square metres in size. If the area is over this size limit, the surface must let water drain or have a soak-away drain or other area, such as a flower bed, that allows water to drain through. Water cannot be directed to run into the road.


Do I need planning permission to run a business from home?

Planning permission may not be required for a householder to run a business from home, providing it does not change the overall character of the property as a residence.

However, some important questions to bear in mind are:

  • Will my business operate independently from the rest of my property?
  • Will there be frequent visitors to my property, including deliveries and/or customers?
  • Am I going to need to employ staff to operate the business?
  • Is my business going to be noisy or cause disturbance to my neighbours?
  • If my business is successful will I want it to expand and grow?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, it is possible that your business will require planning permission.

In addition, if you decide to put up a building in your garden for the purposes of carrying out your business then that building will probably require planning permission as well.   You may also need to tell our Council Tax section about your business, and if you are a tenant in your property, you should check with your landlord that you have their permission.

You can ask the Council to confirm whether or not you need planning permission by submitting an application for a certificate of lawfulness.


How do I get planning permission?

To apply for planning permission, you must fill in the appropriate planning application forms and send them to the Planning Department at the Council offices, together with plans of your development and the appropriate fee. You are encouraged to apply online using the Planning Portal website.

You do not have to be the owner of the land to apply. You can be a prospective purchaser or tenant with less than seven years standing, but you must provide a certificate stating that any owner, if not yourself, has been told of your intention to seek planning permission.


How much does a planning application cost?

Fees information for all types of development proposals can be viewed on our website at Fees for planning applications.

Fees are set nationally by Parliament and the Council has no discretion to waive or change them.

Householder applications cost £172. An application for a new dwelling costs £385, as do most changes of use.

There are concessions for parish councils and those improving their home due to a disability.


How can I get pre-application advice?

If you are seeking planning advice and information on extensions and alterations to a residential property you can do this by:

Looking online. The Government’s Planning Portal (www.planningportal.gov.uk/permission/house) provides simple-to-use interactive guidance for householders about a wide range of planning related matters. Click on the link on our website. This service is free.

Getting advice from a Council planning officer. You can apply for this service online at Householder pre-application advice. You can meet for up to 30 minutes with a planning officer, who will consider your proposal and prepare a pre-application report on your proposals which will be emailed to you. You can book a 30-minute appointment online. You will be asked to upload any documents that you would like us to consider. Full instructions and information are on our website.  The cost including a meeting is £240.

Getting advice from a planning agent. The Council cannot make recommendations, but there is plenty of information online. Common online searches include; 'Architectural Agent', 'Architects', 'Planning Agent', and 'Planning Consultant'. Businesses describing themselves as 'architectural agents' or similar do not necessarily employ qualified architects. Similarly, the use of the word 'planning' into a company's name does not necessarily indicate that they employ qualified planners. The professional body for the planning profession is the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Professionals accredited to this body will usually have the letters MRTPI or FRTPI after their name. Charges vary.

For all other proposals, please see Pre-application advice.


What happens once I have sent in my application?

When we receive your application, we will make sure it has been properly completed and we have all the details we need. Once accepted, it is registered as a valid application.

An acknowledgement letter or email will then be sent to you, or your agent if you are employing one, advising you of the date by when you can expect a decision. We will also write to neighbours who might be affected by the proposal and ask for their comments. Where required, we will also put up a site notice on or near the application site and an advertisement in the local newspaper.

The planning officer assigned to deal with your application will visit the site to carry out an appraisal of the proposal and will make a recommendation to senior officers.

For more detail, please see our website page, What happens to your application.


What matters are considered in reaching a decision?

The Council is required to make decisions on applications in accordance with the Development Plan, unless material considerations say otherwise.  The Development Plan is currently the District Local Plan Review 1994.  There are also supplementary documents that the Council has adopted and takes into account. These can be viewed at Planning policy.

Whilst the Development Plan is the main decision making tool, planning law requires all other factors that are material to making a decision be taken into account.  The Courts have decided that the following items are not material considerations and therefore they cannot influence a planning decision.  When making comments on a planning application these items should be avoided as the Council is unable to take account of them.

Items that are not material considerations include:

  • the character of the applicant
  • who owns the land
  • private rights
  • restrictive covenants
  • changes in property values
  • competition
  • loss of view
  • suggestions of a better site, better use, better development.

Each application will be determined on its own merits. We will consider whether the proposal complies with our approved planning policies and how it will affect its surroundings, visually and physically.

This involves:

  • applying specific land use policies
  • ensuring the local character of the property or area is protected or enhanced 
  • following Government advice and planning law;
  • looking at the outcome of other similar applications and appeal decisions;
  • considering the effects of traffic on local roads and highway safety;
  • promoting energy efficiency and sustainable development options; and
  • taking into account all comments received as a result of our public consultations.

How long does it take before a decision is made?

We aim to determine most planning applications within the statutory time periods – usually 8 weeks (or 13 weeks for major housing and commercial developments) – from the date of validation.

You can talk to the case officer to find out if any delays or problems are envisaged. However, this is best left until after the statutory consultation period, usually three to four weeks into the application. If you have employed an agent, it is best to leave this to them so that the case officer only has to deal with a single person, which saves time.

The speed at which we are able to process planning applications is also affected by a number of aspects that are outside our direct control.  These are: 

  • The rise in demand for our planning services – St Albans currently has the busiest District planning department in the country 
  • The general scarcity of trained planning officers, something that all planning departments are experiencing
  • The buoyant market for planning officers and our proximity to London. 

We aim to process 75% of all planning applications within the statutory timescales. At present, we are achieving 75%.   

Most applications are decided by planning officers under delegated powers, but some may be determined by one of the Council’s four planning committees. These each meet every four weeks in the Council Chamber, beginning at 7.00pm. Therefore, if the application is going to be determined at committee, we are often unable to make the decision within the statutory period.


If my application goes to committee what happens? Can I speak in support of or against an application?

If a planning application is to be determined at committee, the application will be published in the agenda on our website one week prior to the meeting. At the meeting, the planning officer will present the application and recommendation to the Committee. For full details see Planning Committee Meetings. If you are unable to attend the meeting, you can watch it on our webcast.

Agents, applicants and interested members of the public (who have made a comment in writing to the Planning Department via the website, by email or letter) can register to speak at the Planning Committee in respect of any application they have an interest in. Only one speaker for and one speaker against each application is allowed and each speaker will have 3 minutes only. You can register to speak between 9am and 1pm on the Friday before the meeting by telephoning the Council on 01727 866100. If you want to be the speaker either for or against an application, we will ask you if you agree to us sharing your name and telephone number.  If you give us permission to share your name and contact details we will only share them with people who call us about that planning application.

If you are for an application we will only share your contact details with others who are also for the application. If you are against an application we will only share your contact details with others who are also against the application. 

If you do not agree to sharing your contact details, we will make a note in our records that you do not wish to share your details. 

We will give preference to potential speakers who are prepared to share their contact details because we consider it will improve the planning process.

Sharing contact details helps interested parties to contribute their points to the registered speaker and enables the registered speaker to represent their interests, so the committee get a more accurate representation of people’s views.  If no one who wishes to speak is willing to share their details, the first person to register an interest will be contacted, and if still interested, will become the registered speaker.

If planning permission is given, what happens next?

You will normally have three years in which to start the development for which planning permission is granted. You may have to comply with specific conditions imposed so you should carefully check the terms of the permission before you proceed, particularly as some conditions will require formal discharge before you can start the development.  There is an 8-week timeframe for the discharge of these conditions. If you change your plans you must notify us and we will consider whether further applications are required.

You may need separate approval under the Building Regulations before you start work. You may also need to legally inform your neighbours about works close to their boundary under the Party Wall Act.

Further consent will be required for works to Listed Buildings or demolition of some buildings in Conservation Areas.


If permission is not given, what can I do?

Applicants can appeal to the Secretary of State within 8 weeks of the date of the decision for advertisements, 12 weeks for householder proposals or six months in most other cases. 

Appeal forms and guidance can be obtained direct from the Planning Inspectorate.

An independent Inspector will be appointed to visit your site and reconsider the application.


What if I disagree with the Council's decision?

There is no prescribed right of appeal for anyone other than the applicant.

If the application is refused, or granted subject to conditions that the applicant finds unacceptable, an appeal can be made to the Secretary of State via the Planning Inspectorate. An Inspector will consider the case, along with the Council's comments and other representations made by neighbours etc, and decide whether to reverse the Council's decision and allow the development to proceed.

If you have submitted written comments on any application these will be forwarded on to the Inspector as part of the appeal process. However, we may also write to you and tell you how you can make further representations to the Inspector at a Public Hearing or Inquiry.

There are certain limited legal challenges available to others, for example Judicial Review, and advice should be sought privately about these.


Who do you consult about applications?

All applications are available for public inspection here at the Council offices and can be viewed using our Planning applications search facility. 

The Council has to consult with the immediate neighbours (those properties that directly adjoin the application site) and certain statutory consultees, such as the County Highway Authority on highway safety or access matters. Any comments received will be considered before making a decision on an application.


Why have I not received a letter about a proposed development?

All planning applications received are published on our website. The Council will normally only send letters to addresses that have an adjoining boundary with the application site, although we may also include addresses directly opposite where appropriate. Some applications are also advertised by site notices and in the local press. Anyone can comment, regardless of whether or not they have received a letter from the Council. All comments received are carefully considered and will be taken into account when a decision is made.

You can find out about applications in your immediate area by using the mapping layers on our Where You Live local information service.


What can I do if I have concerns about a planning application and what happens to comments I make?

Details of the application can either be viewed at the Council Offices or by using our Planning applications search facility.

You can support, object or make general comments on any planning application. Your comments should be restricted to land use planning matters as these are all that we can take into account. There are no formal rules that need to be followed. As long as we receive your comments in writing within 21 days of the date of the neighbour notification letter (or other advertisement or site notice), we guarantee they will be considered as part of the planning application process. We will take into account any comments that are received prior to the Council making a decision.

The Council cannot advise you what comments to make on an application nor will we enter into correspondence about the application or about objections to it. However, to assist you, the following matters are generally held not to be relevant in considering planning applications:

  • the effect on property values;
  • aspects covered by other legislation (eg Building Regulations);
  • protection of a private view;
  • the existence of covenants and other private legal restrictions;
  • the impact of construction noise;
  • private neighbour disputes;
  • financial gain or commercial interests; or
  • the character or motives of the applicant.

For further information on what issues are relevant to planning decisions, please see our website page, Guidance on commenting on a planning application.

If you wish to make comments you can submit these online, once you have found the planning application using the Planning applications search facility by email to planning@stalbans.gov.uk or by letter to the Planning Department, St Albans District Council, St Peter’s Street, St Albans AL1 3JE. If you are sending your comments by email, please submit them either in the body of the email or as one file attachment only.  For example, if you want to include illustrations, appendices etc they must be all in one single file with your comments (Word or PDF) if you want these published on our website.

Please make sure you provide the application number (if you have it), the site address and your name and address. This is so we can pass on your comments to the relevant case officer. You can follow the progress of the application using the Planning applications search facility.

The Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 allows anyone the right to examine and receive copies of your representations either in person at the Council offices or through our website.

All comments received on planning applications will be published on the Council’s website for inspection, subject to data protection rules which mean that personal data such as signatures, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses will be redacted prior to publication.  Where the Council considers that the content of comments is potentially libellous or defamatory, contain abusive, obscene or racist language or contain information which should not be circulated, it reserves the right to remove the offending information before publication, with or without the consent of the author.  However, the Council will retain an unaltered copy of the comments on the planning file. If you have provided contact details such as your email address and telephone number on the on line form, these details will be visible by the public through our electronic system at the Council Offices. If you provide your personal contact details via the on line form you are giving us CONSENT to share these details with anyone viewing the planning file at our Offices but not on the website.  If you do not wish to share these details you can still make comments using the online form but leave the email and telephone number fields blank.  You must provide your name and address.  The Council will still consider your comments.  If you prefer to provide your contact details but do not wish them to be shared with the public, you can send an email or a letter setting out your comments.  The Council will remove your personal data (email, telephone number and signature) from comments submitted via email or letter.  They will not be seen by the public viewing the file at the Council Offices.

In addition, those commenting on planning applications should ensure that they are satisfied that the content of their letters would not open them to legal challenge.

Due to the number of applications and letters received it is not possible to reply to any issues or questions raised, or to provide further information other than that contained in the application drawings and accompanying documents. But, if you make written representations, your views will be carefully considered in determining the application.


Why haven’t my comments appeared on the website yet?

All comments submitted by residents and other interested parties need to be read for suitability and personal telephone and email details redacted prior to publication on our website.

Letters are scanned and redacted by Technical Support and then forwarded to the case officer.  Emails and online comments are sent directly to the case officer, who will read them before redaction and publication on the website. Depending on workload, officer availability (for example, they may be on holiday) and the sheer number of comments received, this may take some time. Officers will try to publish them as soon as possible but their main priority has to be assessing and determining their planning applications.


What else could I consider?

The following are private matters that could be considered under separate legislation to planning.  The Council cannot become involved in these private matters and they will not usually affect the outcome of an application. 

If any proposal would overshadow a window that has existed for 20 years or more in a way that may affect any "right to light" legal action may be taken against the applicant. This is a private matter and you will need to seek advice on this matter separately. 

If any proposal encroaches onto neighbouring land (for example, by the eaves or gutters overhanging a boundary) it may not proceed without the neighbour's agreement, even if planning permission is granted. 

If building work involves:

  • work on an existing wall shared with another property;
  • building on the boundary with a neighbouring property; or
  • excavating near an adjoining building,
  • the Party Wall Act 1996 may be relevant. An explanatory booklet is available The Party Wall Act.

Similarly, your neighbour's consent may be needed if a builder needs to enter their land at any stage.

If there is any doubt about where the boundary lies between you and your neighbour's property, you should try to find out as soon as possible. The Deeds to your own property may help. An amicable agreement with your neighbour is always best. The Council does not have records of land ownership and cannot give a ruling in any dispute and will not intervene in this private matter.


How else can I get involved?

Planning officers consider and make the decisions on most planning applications under delegated powers.

If you wish an application to be referred to one of the Council's Planning Committees, you should contact your local District Councillor to discuss the matter further. 

Each planning committee meets every four weeks at the Council Offices in St Albans and you are welcome to attend. See our website, Planning committee meetings for further information.

Date of last review: 06 April 2017