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Planning system

This short note summarises some of the key points which emerged from a one day seminar for those involved with church buildings casework, instigated by the Diocese of London and provided by the charity Planning Aid for London on 19 May 2011.

It is not intended to be a definitive guide to this extensive subject. If you think that you may need planning or other local authority permission for an item of work which you are intending to carry out, always contact your local planning authority.

1. The ecclesiastical exemption

The Ecclesiastical Exemption provides, as the name suggests, exemption for buildings primarily in use for worship by the Church of England (and some other denominations) from certain aspects of planning legislation, including:

  • Listed Building consent
  • Conservation Area consent
  • Building Preservation notices
  • Compulsory acquisition of buildings in need of repair
  • Urgent works notices

The exemption does not, however, exclude church buildings from the jurisdiction of planning permission, dangerous structures notices, advertising consent, the building regulations, or any other secular legislation.

In 2010, the exemption was extended to include “separately listed curtilage structures” such as churchyard walls, railings, monuments etc. which now no longer require listed building consent when works are proposed. This means that you now need only obtain DAC recommendation and a Faculty for works of this kind.

2. Permitted development rights

Permitted development rights provide exemption from planning control for minor extensions and alterations to domestic and commercial premises. There are no permitted development rights for any church buildings. This means that you may require planning permission to carry out relatively minor works to your building, for instance exchanging metal framed windows for upvc windows in a modern unlisted church.

3. Locally listed buildings

A Locally Listed Building is a building, structure or feature which, whilst not listed by the Secretary of State, is considered by the Local Planning Authority to be an important part of an area’s heritage due to its architectural, historic or archaeological significance. A local list is often compiled with help from local interest / history groups. Church buildings can be and often are locally listed. Not all Local Planning Authorities have a local list, but where they do, they may consider local listing as a factor when assessing a planning application.

4. Development plans and supplementary planning documents

A Development Plan is a document which is used to guide future new developments and changes in land use within an area. All local authorities must produce a development plan and keep it up to date. In London, there is a two-tier system in place whereby the Mayor of London produces The London Plan, giving strategic guidance, while each London Borough produces a Local Development Framework which gives more detailed guidance.

A Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) provides additional details of a Local Planning Authority’s strategic aims in respect of one particular aspect of planning policy. Some SPDs have been produced which concern churches or other places of worship and which provide a higher level of protection to such buildings than would otherwise be provided by the planning system. The general public (and church communities) can lobby for the implementation of an SPD if they are concerned about a particular aspect of planning policy in a particular geographical area.

5. Neighourhood planning (Localism Act 2011)

From March 2012 ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ will set out the changes and development which local communities consider to be acceptable. This could include identifying particular sites where new homes, shops and offices could be built, voicing an opinion on how they should appear, and granting permission for approved buildings.

In areas where there is no town or parish council, the local authority will give permission for a voluntary neighbourhood group to become a ‘neighbourhood forum’, provided it is not contested and it is representative of the local community, comprised of at least 21 individuals, and open to new members.

If the local planning authority says that an area needs to grow, then communities cannot use neighbourhood planning to block the building of new homes and businesses. They can, however, use neighbourhood planning to influence the type, design, location and mix of new development.

Neighbourhood plans must abide by national planning standards, and will be independently checked to ensure these standards are met. They can only come into force with the approval of a local referendum.

It is important that churches are represented in the writing of neighbourhood plans. Decisions set out in these documents become legally binding and could affect the character of an area or the setting of the church. If permission is going to be granted for large-scale development, it would be beneficial for the church to be able to prepare in order to continue serving the needs of a changing community.

Churches can become involved by providing a representative to sit on the neighbourhood forum, or by representing their views in writing to the forum. For more information on how this body is being organised in your area, contact your local authority.

6. Planning applications

If you need to make an application for planning permission, you should always contact your Local Planning Authority to obtain details of their requirements and processes. The following provides a summary, however, of what you should expect:

Information needed

The information which you will need to provide (depending on the scale of the works being proposed):

  • Application form
  • Plans and drawings
  • Planning statement
  • Transport statement
  • Design and access statement
  • Landscape strategy
  • Archaeological assessment
  • Energy statement

Pre-application consultation

It is always sensible to obtain pre-application advice from your local planning authority if you can. Note that local authorities will charge for pre-application advice in respect of planning applications, but not in respect of listed building consent applications. Therefore, although you would not need to apply for listed building consent in most cases involving church buildings, it is advisable to contact a conservation officer rather than a planning officer as this will mean that you will not be charged for the advice which you receive.

Consultation with the public

All applications for planning permission are placed on the “Planning Register”, advertised in the local press and are the subject of neighbour consultation letters. Exhibitions and other public events are also held as appropriate in the case of major applications. The minimum period for public consultation is 21 days.

The decision

This may be made on a delegated basis, where the council’s officers make the decision on behalf of its members, or on a committee basis where the members of the council make the decision informed by briefings from their officers. The number and type of cases which are delegated vary considerably between local planning authorities.

Material considerations

‘Material Considerations’ which the Local Planning Authority may legitimately take into account when reaching its decision:

  • Planning policies – local, strategic, regional and national, especially the relevant Development Plan
  • Government circulars, orders and statutory instruments
  • Previous appeal decisions
  • Loss of daylight or sunlight to neighbouring properties
  • Overshadowing / loss of outlook to neighbouring properties
  • Overlooking / loss of privacy to neighbouring properties
  • Highways matters including traffic generation, vehicular access and highway safety
  • Noise and disturbance resulting from the proposed use
  • Smells or fumes
  • Light pollution
  • Hazardous materials or ground contamination
  • Loss of trees or landscaping
  • Nature conservation
  • Effect on listed buildings and / or a conservation area
  • Layout and density of buildings
  • Design, visual appearance and materials
  • Archaeology
  • Risk of flooding
  • Disabled persons’ access
  • Impact on the environment

Other factors

Factors which are not “Material Considerations” and which therefore may not be taken into consideration by the Local Planning Authority when deciding whether to grant planning permission include:

  • Matters controlled under separate legislation
  • Building regulations
  • Drainage
  • Fire precautions
  • Private matters between neighbours, e.g. land / boundary disputes, damage to property, private rights of way, covenants etc.
  • Loss of value to property
  • Problems arising from the construction period of any works, e.g. noise, dust, construction vehicles, hours of work etc.

7. Change of use

Church buildings fall within Use Class D1, “Non-Residential Institutions”, which falls in turn within Use Class D, “Community and Leisure” alongside Class D2, “Assembly and Leisure.” Planning Permission is usually required for changes of use between classes D1 and D2. A church, in Use Class D1, may however incorporate other Use Classes (either D2 or one of the other Use Classes A – C) if they are ancillary to the overall use. This is a subjective judgement which is assessed against the frequency and scale of the other uses. Your Local Planning Authority should be able to advise accordingly.

8. Advertisements


For the purposes of Planning law the definition of an “advertisement” includes a number of different items, all of which might be used by a church community:

  • Posters and notices
  • Placards and boards
  • Pole signs and canopy signs
  • Fascia signs
  • Advance signs and directional signs
  • Flags

Exclusion from direct control

Some types of advertisement are excluded from direct control under the planning system:

  • On enclosed land such as railway stations and football stadia
  • On vehicles
  • Integrated into the building fabric, for instance carved stone or mosaic tiling (although these types would almost certainly require other types of consent)
  • Price tickets and markers, vending machines
  • Election notices
  • Notices required by other legislation such as site safety notices
  • Traffic signs
  • National (or Diocesan / Episcopal) flags
  • Advertisements inside buildings including shop window displays

Deemed consent

In other cases, ‘deemed consent’ applies and in practice no application for consent is necessary. Those instances which might be relevant to church communities are as follows:

  • Functional signs (bye-laws, warning notices and timetables)
  • Miscellaneous small notices for religious purposes (to a maximum area of 1.2 square metres and a maximum of two signs per road frontage).
  • Temporary banners. These can be displayed for a maximum of six weeks. They may be illuminated
  • Advertisements in forecourts
  • Flags
  • Advertisements inside buildings
  • Historic advertisements, where there has been an advertisement in the location concerned for 10 years or more
  • In cases of display after five years’ expiry of express consent

Advertising consent

Express advertising consent is required from the local planning authority wherever a proposed advertisement is not listed as exempt or considered to fall within “deemed consent”. This includes all poster hoardings, some illuminated signs, fascia and projecting signs (more than 4.6 metres above ground level) and advertisements on gable ends. Enforcement of the law takes place through magistrate’s courts as there is no civil enforcement procedure.

Advertisements on listed buildings and in conservation areas

In conservation areas, local planning authorities will generally encourage the use of smaller scale posters specified to higher standards. In respect of listed buildings, an advertisement does constitute an alteration and would require listed building consent (although not in the case of churches, which would usually fall within the ecclesiastical exemption).

9. Solar panels

The question of when, in some circumstances, solar panel installations may not require planning permission has been the subject of much confusion in recent months. Solar panel installations should fulfil the following criteria in order not to require planning permission:

Where roof or wall mounted:

  • Must not be installed above the ridgeline
  • Cannot project more than 200mm from the wall or roof surface
  • If the property is listed, listed building consent would be required even where planning permission is not (although not in the case of churches, which would usually fall within the ecclesiastical exemption).
  • If the property is within a conservation area solar panels must not be positioned on either the principal or side elevation, or where they are visible from a public highway.

Where free standing:

  • Must be no higher than four metres
  • Must be at least five metres from the boundaries of the site
  • Must be no larger than nine square metres in area
  • Should not fall within the curtilage of a listed building
  • If within a conservation area, should not visible from a public highway
  • There should only be one installation per property

10. Further reading

11. Acknowledgement

Our thanks go to Mr Anthony Wilson of Planning Aid London for his assistance.

Parish Property Support Team
Diocese of London
April 2012

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