Planning permission sketch book

Does My Extension Need Planning Permission?

Obtaining planning permission in the UK can be a very frustrating process – we’re a builder here in Kettering, Northants and have been operating for over 20 years, so trust us, we know only too well the difficulties that some people have faced before getting to us. But if you approach the subject with the correct knowledge it needn’t be. In this guide we’ve given you our top tips on how to navigate the planning system and how as experienced operatives in the area, how the team here at Mortar & Co can assist you with your application.


Do I need planning consent?

There is no simple answer to this question as each construction project is completely unique and it depends on lots of factors. Firstly, lets take a look at projects on the smaller end of the scale – if it meets the right conditions then it may not require planning permission under a scheme called ‘permitted development’ (PD).


What is PD and how do I know if my project qualifies?

This is a set of rights that was introduced by Parliament – rather than a local authority – to allow property owners (residential and commercial) to undertake a certain level of work without having to apply for full planning permission. These rights were relaxed further in May 2013 for a three year trial, and they allow quite a generous amount of work to be undertaken. Below is a short summary of what’s permitted:

  • You can extend the rear of your detached property by up to 8m if it’s a single storey extension or up to 3m if it’s two storey
  • If you live in a semi-detached or terraced property then you can extend the rear up to 6m for a single storey addition or 3m for more than two
  • Any rear extension has to be at least 7m from the rear boundary
  • You cannot extend the front of your house or any elevation that faces a public highway for that matter
  • If you want to extend the side of your property then you can only add a single storey development and the size cannot be any greater than 50% of the width of the original building
  • The maximum height for a single storey extension is 4m to the ridge and the eaves
  • The maximum height for a two storey extension is the same as the original building
  • An extension to the rear must not result in more than 50% of the garden being covered
  • With the exception of conservatories, any additions to the property must be of the same look and feel as the original building and use materials that blend in seamlessly


This sounds too good to be true – are there any exceptions?

Yes, but then you knew that was coming didn’t you? If you live in a Designated Area such as a Conservation Area, National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or in a listed building then a different set of rules apply and can vary depending on your local authority.

Some local planning authorities have also removed elements of these rights in situations that fall outside the above areas. For instance, Westminster Council have removed PD rights from a handful of streets that they deem of significant historical importance.

Another important detail to take into account is that each property is allocated a certain amount of PD from 1948 onwards. This means that if any prior owners of your property have completed work under PD since then to now, it counts towards the total development that you are allowed.


Anything else I should know?

There are also PD rules that govern outbuildings and improvements such as loft conversions. The best course of action is either to call your local planning authority to discuss the intricacies the of your project or a local building company, such as us here at Mortar & Co, will be able to advise you as part of a free initial consultation – just pick up the phone.

If you’re looking at building a more substantial extension, or say, one that is of a contrasting style to the original property the chances are that you’re going to have to apply for full planning permission.


I’ve heard that obtaining planning permission is the hardest part of the project

This can certainly be said for some projects, but this sort of situation only usually arises for the most complex of projects. Gaining planning permission can also be difficult when poor advice is dished out in the first place and an applicant tries to obtain permission for something that will be granted in a million years, either because it’s plain against the rules or would disadvantage the local community in some way.

And yes, the tales that you’ve heard about the process being a bureaucratic nightmare can be true, but you have to remember that you’re dealing with a tranche of the government so it’ll always be the case to some extent.


How to make the process go as smooth as possible

To begin with you should always take on board the advice of the professionals around you: designers; builders; estate agents, etc., to make sure that what you are looking at building is realistic in ambition and scope. What we mean by this is if you’re going against the advice given and trying to increase the size of your house by an amount that is not likely to ever be approved, or adding elements to your Grade 1 listed house that are against the rules, then you’re likely to find yourself with a very drawn out, messy, stressful and ultimately unsuccessful planning application.

One of the costliest mistakes that people make is to not plan fully and change their minds or make some kind of alteration halfway through an application that could have been avoided in the beginning. If you end up withdrawing an application then not only will you have to resubmit and repay all the fees; you’re also going to have to shell out more money to have your designer make any amends to the plans. As the old adage by Benjamin Franklin goes: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

The most efficient and speedy results come when you instruct people, such as Mortar & Co, to manage the planning application on your behalf. As has already been written, we have established relationships with the key players in the local authority and we have invaluable knowledge of the types of things that the local authorities we deal with like and dislike.


Do I need to make a pre-application to the local authority?

Each project is entirely different and there are lots of reasons why a pre-app may or may not be required. The idea behind a pre-app is that you take preliminary designs – sometimes even sketches and photos of the site – to your local authority to gauge the likelihood of full planning permission being granted or to find out exactly what extras/concessions they are likely to require in advance. The idea is for this informal process to save you, the applicant, both time and money. However, in recent years this process has started to become a lot less informal with some councils charging up to £400 for this privilege, so it’s worth checking in advance.

A good designer and builder should be able to advise you if you need to go down this route. Here at Mortar & Co some of the reasons that we might take a project through a pre-app are as follows:

  • If the extension if uniquely complex
  • You may be approaching the boundaries of your property
  • If you’re adding 50% or more to your property’s original footprint
  • You’re wanting to build in a Designated Area
  • If the addition to your property is of a contrasting style to the existing
  • It seems likely that the development will impact neighbours


Submitting a full planning application

Once you’ve worked with your designer and decided on the design, worked out the precise location, sizes, access routes and all the other details, your designer should have produced a complete set of technical drawings and plans, which not only include all the aesthetic modelling and elevations, but also all the technical details such as:

  • Drainage
  • Foundations
  • Type of materials
  • Detail on how the structure interacts and joins with the existing
  • Utility scheme – electricity, gas etc
  • Access routes

This is a non-exhaustive list, but it gives you a good idea of the level of detail that your application will require.

Although not legally required anymore, a design and access statement can still add value to an application – particularly if there’s a degree of complexity or something out of the norm to what you’re trying to achieve. After compiling this information it will then be submitted to the planning department electronically and this is when any fees will be due by the council.


How long will it take to get a decision?

As ever, there is no hard and fast rule to determine this. In our experience, if a planning application is submitted with all the relevant details and runs into no hiccups along the way then you can expect to have a decision in about 8-10 weeks.


What are the different outcomes?

Your application will either be approved, approved with conditions or refused. An approval is usually obtained in one of two ways: either the case officer that has been assigned to your application is able to see the process through from start to finish and award a decision; or in the case of any objections from neighbours or other parties it’s likely the decision will go to committee. If this latter scenario happens then the local authority will inform you and give you a detailed report. You will then have the chance to speak at the committee hearing to help your project with any necessary information. If you’ve employed the services of Mortar & Co to field your application then we’d take on this responsibility for you.


Can I appeal?

Sometimes, even the best-prepared submissions backed up by leading architects and lawyers can be denied by the council. If your application is denied then the council will tell you why explicitly and if there’s an opportunity to amend any details then you will be invited to and the resubmission will be free of charge.

If this option isn’t open to you then you are entitled to fully appeal the decision. Be warned though that this can be a long and costly process. Before venturing down this route it’s worth speaking to your designer and planning consultants as it may turn out that there’s a better way of obtaining planning, such as redesigning part of the development and resubmitting the new application.


How can Mortar & Co help?

Over the years we’ve dealt with hundreds of planning applications for our clients. People tend to come to us in one of three scenarios:

  1. We’ve been commissioned to undertake the full design as well as construction of the client’s project. This means that we deal with the entire planning process in the role of an agent on behalf of the client before moving onto the project management and construction phases
  2. We’ve been commissioned to undertake the architectural design of the new property and we produce all relevant technical drawings for the client to submit to the planning authority
  3. A client has submitted a planning application, but somewhere along the way amendments are needed to their plans (for instance, if building regulations hadn’t been sufficiently met) and we help to rectify the situation

We see the most problems occur when a client has been ill-advised before submitting an application – sometimes it will just be impossible for your particular scheme to be granted permission, no matter how well-intentioned it is. It’s always worth seeking the best advice before submitting an application, so if you have any questions regarding any point of the process feel free to shoot us an email or call us on 01536 525229 and we’d be more than happy to give you advice. As always, completely free of charge!

Feel free to leave any comments below about your past experiences or if you want to ask a question we’ll get back to you.

Winter proof your house

Winter-Proof Your Home With These Cheap DIY Fixes

You should consider winter-proofing your home as something akin to a car’s MOT – a yearly check-up that aims to keep your property in tip-top condition and prevent any expensive damage from occurring. The fixes outlined in this article don’t require a builder or specialist – they can done yourself for just a few pounds and a couple of hours of your spare time.

“Winter is nature’s way of saying, ‘Up Yours.’” – Robert Byrne

Why do I need to winter-proof my property?

Top of the list is the potential to prevent thousands of pounds worth of damage. Consider a frozen pipe that bursts in the loft – everything underneath is going to get badly water damaged. Imagine this happening in the run-up to Christmas!

Secondly, you’ll be able to sit back and relax in a lovely warm, draught-free house, which will help take the edge off those freezing mornings and miserable dark evenings.

Thirdly, you’ll save money on your heating bills.

Below are the main areas that you should focus on.

1. Water pipes

This is an area that lots of people tend to overlook when thinking about winter-proofing their house, after all, you’ll notice a draught way more than you will a pipe hidden in the loft or on an external wall behind the patio furniture. But, as highlighted above, it’s something that you should give particular attention to. If exposed to the cold, the water freezes, expands, and then ruptures the pipe causing a major leak. If the ruptured pipe is indeed in the loft then this can cause catastrophic damage to your property.

The aim of the game is to properly protect any exposed water and heating pipes from the freezing temperatures. Old and period houses are particularly susceptible to this as they may have had new pipes retrofitted. The first place to check is in the loft. Look for any pipes that sit above the insulation, either running along the floor or fastened to the walls. The second place that you want to check is outdoors on your walls. External water taps often have an exposed pipe.

Luckily, insulating these pipes is very straight forward – all good DIY stores sell pipe insulation (sometimes also called pipe lagging) for just a few pounds. Make sure you get the correct diameter for the pipe you want to cover and you can cut to the required length easily enough using a Stanley knife. Then it simply slips over the pipe like a jacket. If you’re applying to an external pipe then it may be worth fixing into place using a few zip ties. Job done.


2. Keep the heating on low

This is a particularly important thing to remember if you’re going away on a winter break (lucky you!) or you’re going to be out of the house for more than a day or two. It’s related to the point above about keeping your pipes from freezing.

Keeping your thermostat on low – around the 10℃ mark – will keep warm water flowing through the pipes intermittently and will prevent them from freezing up and bursting.


3. Service your boiler

OK, so not strictly a DIY job, but one that you should look at getting done for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s good to have the peace of mind that a thorough safety check has been carried out and any issues have been prevented. Secondly, it’ll ensure that your boiler is running as efficiently as possible, which will save you money on your heating bills. Thirdly, the worst possible time for a boiler to break down is in the middle of winter, especially if it’s over the Christmas break as getting a plumber or heating engineer out to fix it will not only be difficult but will likely cost you lots more.

Make sure that any work on your boiler is carried out by a registered Gas Safe professional. You can find a local Gas Safe technician using the official register.


4. Check the guttering for blockages

In the winter it’s all too easy for gutters to get blocked up with dead leaves as well as things like moss and general dirt. A blocked gutter will cause rainwater to spill out over the top and subsequently down your exterior walls. This is the number one cause of penetrating damp in the home and can cause wallpaper to peel off, stains on paintwork and can cause mould, which can lead respiratory illnesses. It’s also possible that the penetrating moisture can can wet rot and even dry rot – problems which can cost thousands of pounds to fix.


5. Check your roof tiles

Whilst you’re up on the ladder checking the gutters I’d recommend taking a peek at the roof. You want to check and make sure that all of your roof tiles are sitting straight, in the correct place. If they’re not then simply move them back into place to ensure that the rain and snow doesn’t leak through and into your loft space. This is a particularly good idea if the weather has been pretty stormy and windy.

You also want to check for any cracked tiles. If you find some then you should look at getting them replaced as soon as possible before the worst of the weather sets in.


6. Loft insulation

The Energy Savings trust recently completed a comprehensive study into the UK’s housing market and found that, incredibly, over a quarter of homes still don’t have any loft insulation. Adding loft insulation is one of the best ways of winter-proofing your house (heat rises, don’t forget), although it takes a little bit more effort than some of the other fixes highlighted in this article.

The EST recommends installing loft insulation with a thickness of 270mm. Not only will this help to keep you and the family toasty in freezing temperatures, it can also save you up to about £150 a year on your heating bill!

If you’re of the more adventurous DIYer then you can purchase rolls of loft insulation from your local DIY store and fit it yourself. A roll of insulation starts at around £25.

It’s also worth noting that as the government is pushing to cut the country’s CO2 emissions, there are quite a lot of grants available to help you out. You should also check with your energy provider as lots of them are also offering great schemes and incentives. The great people over at EST have compiled a large database of all the grants and offers available to you.


7. Fit draught excluders

Nobody likes a draught, but all too often you find that homeowners are simply unaware that a fix is not only cheap, but will only take a few minutes to install.

There are lot of different types of draught excluder available from self-adhesive rubber windows and door strips, to letterbox and keyhole excluders. The are all very cheap items and can be fitted easily yourself. In fact I used the rubber draught excluder on my front door last weekend and I had the whole job done in less than five minutes and for under five quid!

Fitting draught excluders can save you up to £25 a year on your energy bill, so it’s more than likely they’ll pay for themselves in one winter.

So there you have it; my top tips for inter-proofing your property this year before the weather sets in. If you think I’ve missed anything from this list or you have your own cheap and quick fixes then share them in the comments below. It’d also be great if you could share this article with your friends using the buttons below!

Digger Making Foundations

After Planning Permission: A Guide To Actually Building Your Project

Congratulations! You’ve submitted a planning application, but what exactly happens next? How do you choose a decent builder and project manager and how do you know what the precise process is? We know all too well that there’s an absolute minefield of information out there and that it can all get pretty confusing – especially when you’re trying to collate information from different websites, magazines and internet forums, for instance.

We thought that the best thing to do is to produce this handy step-by-step guide that shows how we take you from being granted planning consent, to project management, dealing with building regulations and finally constructing your project and moving in!

Mortar & Co is a Kettering, Northamptonshire based company and we’ve been in the construction industry for over 20 years. We’ve had the pleasure of working on a really diverse amount of projects in the residential and commercial sectors. These range from extensions, renovations and remodelling through to basements, new-builds and shop fitting. Being in business this long means that we’ve run into almost every hurdle going, but that means we also have all the solutions.

Step 1: Get in touch

We’re a sociable bunch here at Mortar & Co and we’d love to hear from you. At this stage you’re probably going to have lots of questions about your building project, so we just want to let you know that we’re here at your beck and call. We offer a range of services from Project Management, Building Regs management, Materials Procurement through to the actual Construction service. Just give us a call or send us an email and we’d be more than happy to answer any of your questions. Completely free of charge, of course.

Step 2: On-site meeting

After your initial contact it’s more than likely that we’ll arrange an on-site meeting with you. This allows us to make a full assessment of your proposed project and your site. We’ll be checking things like your technical and working drawings, accessibility to the site, measurements, ground conditions, and a health and safety appraisal.

Most importantly, we believe the best builders first need to listen to determine what your precise needs are. This means that we’ll want to know exactly what it is that you’re wanting to achieve, what style you’re aiming for, what your exact budget is etc. It’s also important at this stage for us to find out exactly what it is that you want and expect from us, so that we can fully manage your expectations

This is also the best time for you to ask us questions (we’re sure there’ll be lots) and you can use this opportunity to probe deep, after all, we understand that your building project is one of the biggest investments of both your time and money you’re ever likely to make, so it’s crucial that we establish a strong partnership built on trust.

Step 3: Provide Estimate

Once we’ve completed the initial site meeting and gathered all the relevant details from you we will start work straight away on compiling your estimate. Included in this estimate, we will detail precisely and comprehensively all the work that you require undertaking.

Step 4: Commencement Meeting

Excellent stuff. If we’re having a commencement meeting it means that you’ve contracted us to undertake work. We’re grateful for the opportunity and promise to deliver the highest quality work.

At this meeting we’ll start by handing you a physical programme of works so that you know exactly what is happening, when, and with whom. We’ll also begin to make arrangements for smaller details such as, location of site office (if required), storage of materials, on-site WC facilities, health and safety requirements as well as arrange strict site operating hours so that we keep all disruption to yourselves (and neighbours) at an absolute minimum.

Step 5: Register site with local authority

Your project and site needs to be registered for building regulations with the local authority 72 hours before any work starts. This is just a formality – and like everything else – we will take care of this for you.

Step 6: Begin work

This is the part where we put boots on the ground and get some real work done bringing your project to life. You can expect to be in contact with us on a regular basis (or not – it’s up to you) and as we said earlier we’re entirely at your beck and call for the duration of the project no matter how small or trivial your issue might seem.

We will oversee all of the work from day one – from foundations to finish. You don’t even have to worry about making anyone cups of tea!

Step 7: Project Handover

This is the stage when all building work has been completed and once final approval has been obtained the project is safe for us to handover to you.

Things to Remember

  • Throughout the duration of the project we are completely at your beck and call and aim to make the whole build as stress-free as possible
  • We do all the hard work for you, after all, that is our job
  • We provide a number of services including construction project management and you’re free to choose whichever suits you best
  • We always listen to make sure that your exact needs are catered for


If you know someone that could benefit form this advice then please share on social media or forward them this post via email using the buttons below!