Anna and Pete Grugeon of the Bulworthy Project share their experiences and advice for anyone seeking to gain planning permission for an off-grid, self-build home.
This article is based on our experiences of the planning system at Bulworthy Project and the experiences of our friends. Neither of us had any interaction with the planning system before setting up Bulworthy Project. As part of setting up the project, we have applied twice under the permitted development system for a shed and a barn and twice for full planning permission – once for temporary residential permission to live in a caravan and once for permission to build a house (above). We have got each of these without having to go to the planning committee or appeal. To an extent we have been lucky, but we have also done what we can to weight the dice in our favour. Even though we have been successful on each application in the first instance, the process is hard work, time consuming and extremely stressful. We felt at times that we were living in limbo, running a business and living a lifestyle that could be taken away from us by some bureaucratic nonsense. The whole set up of Bulworthy Project was immensely hard work. The planning process added an almost unbearable level of stress. This article does not cover specific points of law or show any loopholes to ensure success with gaining planning permission but is more about a philosophy that worked for us and can hopefully help others setting up a low-impact lifestyle for themselves and maybe help to reduce some of that stress.
How we got our first application wrong
The first building that we applied for was a shed. It was not a full application but was under permitted development rules. As such it should have been simple. We rang up the council to ask how to go about it and were told that we should write them a letter stating what we wanted to build and why including some pictures and they would make a decision within 28 days. We wrote a letter and waited. After a couple of weeks we phoned to ask if there was a decision and were told that it would be dealt with soon. When it got to 28 days we phoned again and were fobbed off again. By the time it had got to 56 days we had done a little research and discovered that they have 28 days to object or you can go ahead and build. We phoned up and said that we were just going to build now as the 28 days had elapsed. We were then told that we had not filled in the correct forms or paid the appropriate fee and therefore the application was not valid. Technically we may have been able to get away with building as we had applied in the format that the planning officer who represented the planning authority had told us to use. That however would have made all subsequent applications a lot less likely to succeed. We put the application on the correct form, paid the fee and waited. The planning officer (who was obviously now asserting her authority) extended the decision period due to her concerns over visual impact and traffic movements. To put this into context, this was a 3m x 6m shed which could not be seen from the road. It represented no notable increase in traffic. We made our case at length and she eventually gave us permission. The whole process which should have been entirely uncontroversial and over in 28 days, took about 6 months. As we were looking to get permission to live on our land we needed to vastly improve the way we dealt with the planning process.
Learn the rules before you play the game
You wouldn’t play a game of poker without being sure that you understood the rules first. Planning is no different. Before we applied for temporary planning permission to live on our land we read not only the relevant planning policies but also found as many cases as we could that had been decided under those policies. We read both successful and unsuccessful cases and tried to see what went well for some and badly for others. One thing that really stuck out was that a lot of the cases that failed had been argued on the general merits of the development without regard to the appropriate policies. Some of these cases were for well deserving projects which would have been a positive part of the local economy and environment, but were not allowed to continue because they had not addressed the requirements of the appropriate policy. Often their cases would have fitted the policies, they just needed to show that they did. Do note that the law is different in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The best place to go for planning advise for low-impact developments is Chapter 7.
State your case even if it seems obvious
A lot of what seems obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to your planning officer or members of the public who read your case. You may think that it is obvious that a charcoal kiln which is burning away and creating temperatures in excess of 600°C requires someone on site to prevent the risk of damage, injury or death. Your planning officer may never have thought about charcoal making and have no idea of that danger. You may think that the environmental benefits of removing the conifers that have foolishly been planted in an ancient woodland and restoring the coppice are obvious. Until it is explained to them, your planning officer and members of the public may just see this as unnecessarily cutting down trees. Explaining everything will make your paperwork lengthy but it will make it comprehensive and it will make it look like you are serious. A planning officer once said to us about our case (before seeing the paperwork we were about to submit), “We see a lot of these cases put forward on half a sheet of A4”. You do not want them to think that you are proposing an idea that is thought out on the back of a cigarette packet.
Talk to your neighbours
Sooner or later (and generally sooner) your neighbours will find out what you are doing and will form an opinion. You may as well try to help them form a positive opinion. Talk to them about what you intend to do and ask them if they have any suggestions as to how to reduce or remove any impact it may have on them. We had a little touring caravan on the opposite side of the woods to the caravan we lived in. We had used it before we moved on and then friends used it when they visited us. It was on the edge of the woods and our neighbours could see it from their bedroom window 2 fields away. They asked if we could tuck it away out of sight. We got a winch and pulled it a little further into the woods so that they could not see it. This made no difference to us but to our neighbours it not only meant not only that they had a better view, but they knew that we were up for compromise. It is always possible that you will not be able to convince your neighbours to support you. It is possible that you won’t be able to convince them not to fight you every step of the way but it is worth a try.
Be part of the local community
If everything goes well you will be living on your land long term. Being part of the community is not only going to help you get planning but will also make your life more pleasant. We were lucky that our local village has a community shop that is run by volunteers. We both started volunteering before we applied for planning permission and we still do. It was hard to put the time in when we were building our house but people locally really appreciated our efforts. However, more than it making us look helpful, it allowed people to put a name to the face. We were not some crazy hippies who were living in the woods, but the people who sold them groceries on a weekend morning. They could ask us questions about what we were doing with our woods and comfort themselves that we were not going to have massive raves or turn the place into a traveller site. The opportunity to volunteer in a community shop is not always going to be available, but seeing if there is anything you can get involved in or simply drinking at the local pub and buying stuff in the local shop all helps to get your face known and helps to normalise you in people’s minds. When the local primary school were looking for somewhere to do forest school activities, we offered them use of our woods. They pay the costs for insurance and their own compost toilet and, as well as being great for public relations on a local scale, we like being a positive part of other peoples lives so it is truly a win win situation.
Consult your parish council before applying
Even though we had already met some of them through the shop, this was nerve-racking. We also did it slightly wrong. We talked too much about planning policy. The parish council are not bothered about policy. They are bothered about the impact on the local environment and community. Arrange to be at one of their meetings to talk to them about what you want to do and ask for feedback so that you can allay any fears that they have and adapt your plans if necessary to minimise impact. They will appreciate this even if they have no suggestions. We came out of our meeting with the parish council with a recommendation for an outlet to sell our charcoal which turned out to be one of our best outlets. When the district council sent our application to them for comment they backed it unanimously.
Get pre-application advice from the planning authority
Some authorities charge for this but it is probably still worth while on balance. Be ready for a negative response. If you were to just give up on your plans, get a job and rent somewhere there is one less application for the authority to deal with. To the planning officer you are talking to you are just presenting them with extra workload. From our experience and from the experience of people we have talked to they often try to put you off at this stage. At the very start of Bulworthy Project we were told that we didn’t “have a cat’s chance in hell”. However, they will also point you in the direction of the relevant planning policy documents and give advise on what parts of your plan may be contentious. If you have done your research thoroughly you already know the areas of policy to look at and you may gain no insight from this meeting but you have consulted the authority. Do not use this as an opportunity to argue your case, use it as an opportunity to make it known that you are up for dialogue and discussion. Listen to what they say, thank them and smile nicely.
Be prepared to compromise
Between getting pre-application advice and applying we had a visit from a planning enforcement officer. We showed him around our woods and when we got to the caravan which we had already moved to please our neighbours. He said that the planning authorities prefer all signs of habitation to be together in one place rather than scattered across the site. We had no real reason to have that caravan there so after he left we winched it back out of the woods, moved it down the road, back into the other side of the woods and into the clearing that we live in. It was a bit of a hassle but it’s previous position wasn’t important and it showed a willingness to compromise. This was a good step in building up a relationship with our planning officers.
Be prepared for a struggle but don’t start a fight
It is your planning officers job to scrutinise your application. They will not just say that they think it is entirely reasonable and start coming up with extra reasons why you should be successful. They will start coming up with reasons why you should be unsuccessful. Don’t take this personally. They almost definitely don’t care if you get permission or not. They just have to tick various boxes before they tick the yes box or the no box. If they don’t give you permission and you either get it on appeal or just move off there is little or no comeback for them. If they grant you permission without due diligence and you turn your site into an eyesore, hold raves and cause mayhem or close down the business that was the basis for your application and just use planning rules for property speculation they will get no end of grief. They will therefore want to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s before granting you permission. They will come up with objections that sound stupid, antagonistic and unreasonable even if they have a mind to decide in your favour so that they can be seen to have been thorough in their approach. They are used to and may anticipate conflict and their interpersonal skills may not be great so this may cause them to sound aggressive. The best thing that you can do is to stay calm. Even if your planning officer does turn out to be a small-minded, fascist bigot who hates people with long hair/dreads/tattoos/imagination or whatever, you will not help the situation by shouting at them. Probably they don’t hate you they are just completely baffled by you. They are the sort of people who like a nice comfortable, steady job with the benefits of job security, sick pay and a pension. The idea that anyone would want to live in a caravan, a yurt or a bender in the woods or on a bit of land and set up some project which could go entirely wrong is completely outside their realm of understanding. Be kind to them it is not their fault, they have just grown up that way.
Don’t bother with loopholes and scams
This is not to say that you shouldn’t use every bit of the law to your benefit. Read it thoroughly, learn it and use it. However, we have heard of a lot of “clever” loopholes that may well help you to achieve a small victory in the short term, but your planning officer will probably be aware of them too. Using loopholes is likely to antagonise your planning officer, persuade them that you are a property speculator and ruin any chances that you have of a productive long term relationship. If you know that you only ever need planning permission once, you will never apply for anything again and the loophole will definitely get you the permission that you require, then there is an argument for using it. Otherwise it may well cost you more than it gains you. If you get to live on your land for 5 years whilst slowly building a barn but after 5 years you have the full force of your planning authority against you, you may wish you had not bothered. Loopholes and scams will also reduce your standing in the local community and therefore your local support.
Get support from wherever you can
As well as support from your neighbours and the local community, there are numerous other areas that you can get support from. If you are producing a product, canvas support from the shops that sell it or the people that use it. Shops are particularly good because they represent the local economy. If you have worked with your local Wildlife Trust, ask if they are prepared to support you. Any organisation that is a specialist in your activities such as woodland trust or volunteer groups, local or national will add weight.
Try not to be on a National Park or an AONB, but if you are, work with them
AONBs and National Parks add a whole extra load of bureaucracy to what already promises to be a mega-fest of bureaucracy. If you are looking for land and you see a lovely place on a national park, do be aware that there are issues attached. However, you can work with either of these organisations. They will have a whole load of policy on how they want the area to be managed and targets to achieve. If you read this, you may well find that your activities fit in with their targets. They may be concerned about the amount of neglected woodland, the demise of wildflower meadows and the lack of opportunities for traditional crafts. Most AONBs and national parks want a thriving economy that fits in with landscape and environmental protection. They may well have schemes that you can get involved in regarding habitat protection and education. Even if they have a policy of not supporting planning applications, if you are seen to be working with them it will help your case. You should then state all of their policies which your actions support in your planning application.
Do not wait for the application to be decided before moving on
Your planning application is going to to be complex and it is unlikely to be decided quickly. If you are already on the land, you can use this time to set up you project so that your case just gets stronger. If you have not moved on your case is theoretical and easier to dismiss. When we first applied for temporary permission to live on our land we had not started to make charcoal. Our planning officer questioned the viability of the business based on us not having any outlets for our charcoal. By the time the wheels of bureaucracy had slowly turned and it was time to make the decision, we had outlets, marketing materials and the beginnings of a website. The planners may delay the case and hope you give up, whether or not you have moved on. Small businesses fail a lot in the early years and people who think that it’s a great idea to live on some land in the summer do sometimes change their mind in those cold winter months. Your planning officer doesn’t want to do a whole load of paperwork just to find out that you’ve changed your mind.
N.B. We put our application in well after moving on but that was in 2010. The Localism Act 2011 means that you can not now put in a retrospective application if an enforcement notice has already been served on the land in relation to the activities that you are applying for. In light of this it may be better to put in the application as you move on. Once the application is in the planning authority cannot issue an enforcement notice.
Don’t feed the parasites
We were told when we started to look into planning permission to live on our land that we would need a planning consultant to have any chance of getting it. During the process, many people suggested planning consultants that we could use. Mainly these were their friends who although not short of money, wanted some of ours. You do not need to have any qualifications to call yourself a “planning consultant”. There are lots of people who would like to take advantage of your situation and take from you money that would be better spent on setting up your project. Do not give them any money – it only encourages them. Some planning consultants used to work for the council and have ongoing relationships with the planning officers. That would help if they were truly on your side, but they don’t have an ongoing relationship with you. You are just a source of income to them. They will go through the motions all the way up to the High Court if you keep paying them, without caring if you win or lose. Some are “professionals” with big offices who will charge you an absolute fortune to present your case in a very posh binder. They will think that you are clearly quite mad wanting to live a low-impact lifestyle and then not being surprised when you eventually lose, because they never got it in the first place. Some planning consultants have also been through the process to set up their own project and had a battle on the way. They’ve learnt to hate planning officers and now want to pick a fight with them using your money and acting on your behalf. You may be lucky and get a good planning consultant who is on your side and is looking for the best way to get the result you want with the least possible aggro. Even so you are unlikely to be able to afford to pay them for as many hours as you would put into researching the case yourself and more importantly you will not understand the details of your case. As part of the process, you will almost definitely have difficult conversations with your planning officer. During these conversations you want to know your case inside out. If you have done the research yourself then you will. If someone else has done that research you won’t. There is also an advantage to dealing with being the point of contact yourself in that you can then build up a relationship with your planning officer. If you are genuine in your intentions you are more likely to be able to put this across to your planning officer if you communicate directly with them rather than through an intermediary.
Keep a tidy site
Because one of the big concerns that people have with new developments in the countryside is visual impact, it is important to keep your site tidy. This is especially true of the most visible areas such as the roadside and gateways. A small amount of time spent picking up the rubbish that has been thrown from passing cars onto your road frontage will be noted by your neighbours and will go a long way to improving peoples opinion of you locally. If you have overgrown hedges that are starting to obstruct the road, the parish council may well ask you to cut them back. If you cut them back before you are asked, that will be appreciated. The important resources that you have reclaimed and bought on to your site may well just look like tat to other people. Stacking things into neat piles out of the way can make the difference between them looking like something waiting to be used and something that has been dumped. If a planning officer, a parish councillor or one of your neighbours visits your site, the tidier it looks the better.
We hope it goes well for you
Planning is a game of law and politics and this is an approach that worked for us. Others will read it and disagree. It involves a certain level of compromise and some people aren’t up for that which is fair enough. There are times when you can’t compromise. We were asked to put in an application for change of use from forestry to industrial use for the area of our land that the charcoal kiln is on. We thought that saying that charcoal production is an industrial land use would set a precedent that we were not prepared to be part of. As we had already compromised on smaller stuff like the position of our second caravan, this was easier for our planning officer to accept. This approach also involves a certain level of diplomacy and biting your tongue which is not everyone’s strong point. It is of course impossible to run a double-blind trial to test how well this philosophy works. It may have been that if we had just put in an application and kept to ourselves we would have got it anyway, but this philosophy makes sense to us. You have to look at your situation, your philosophy and your strengths and weaknesses and decide what approach is best for you. We hope that it is helpful to others who are trying to set up a low-impact lifestyle in the countryside. Please do pass it on to anyone whom you think it may help.
Learn more about planning permission in our topic introduction here, with specialist Daniel Scharf on hand to answer your queries.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Diana Timms August 6th, 2015
Very interesting. I tried to get planning to build an eco house on my 11 acres of land, set up an orchard, polytunnel and lived in a caravan. It didn’t work. I spent a few thousand and the planning officer’s objections were take down an original hedge and put in a road alongside the road for access, outside the village, building not in the vernacular and tnerefore unsuitable for the area, blind entrance (although the dustbin lorries turn here, tarmac the road where no one was allowed to drive, etc.
I enjoyed my orchard, polytunnel and rural setting life. The planning officer did not. She objected to my ideas continually.
2Dave Darby August 7th, 2015
I sympathise. We’re staying in a yurt on a farm in Wales at the moment. They’ve restored the original farmhouse, and it’s the most beautiful building you could imagine. Originally, the planners weren’t going to let them do it, and they fought them every step of the way. Now environmental health are preventing them from developing a cheesemaking business. A licence will cost them a fortune. The comment from EH was ‘if people want cheese, they can get it from the supermarket – there’s no need for you to make cheese’. It makes my blood boil, and I aim to start a campaign to get bureaucracy off the backs of small businesses. If they want to prevent people from doing things, why don’t they focus on preventing corporations from avoiding taxes, which puts them at an unfair advantage over small businesses. That’s a question I think we know the answer to already, but I’m going to talk to other organisations about organising a campaign.
3Alex Heffron (@AlexHeffron88) August 21st, 2015
Thanks for writing this article. Very useful info. My partner and I soon hope to put in a planning application for a OPD and this is good to know beforehand.
4Venk September 26th, 2015
Good Advice – most councils will discuss your planning intent and point out flaws if any early. Play be the rules and usually you will come out O.K. Just a point about solar PV panels – assuming the roof is generally pointing towards South/West – the pitch of the roof in the photo is too steep – best to have a roof ~30 to 35 deg for best capture efficiency.
5Venk September 26th, 2015
Cheese making – one assumes the planners wanted to see compliance with food processing regulations if this is a commercial facility. no one will object to you making cheese for personal consumption.
6Anna and Pete Grugeon September 27th, 2015
http://solarelectricityhandbook.com/solar-angle-calculator.html is a reasonable guide to the optimum angle for solar panels. For an on grid system where you are looking to produce the maximum amount of electricity over the course of a year, the angle that you state is about right. For an off grid system where you are looking for the maximum amount of electricity during the winter with shorter days, 45 degrees is a much better angle. During the summer, there is always ample power produced due to the longer days and less is used as there is less need for lighting.
7Jo Henderson September 29th, 2015
Really helpful and informative. We had a hideous 18 month battle which united the local community in their loathing of us! There were lies, very dodgy actions by local councillors and the subjective nature of the planning process to contend with. We were refused permission for change of use for a small eco-campsite in Devon, and I just kept my head down and ploughed on. The result was overturned at appeal. My advice is – never be surprised at the lengths people will go to, to protect their castle and lifestyle. It was quite an eye opener, and luckily for us, common sense – and as Pete says here, policy – prevailed. Be prepared for a fight but don’t take it personally and don’t be surprised at the scum tactics people will use. Watching staunch Methodists tell lies about us at committee was an interesting moment in my life. In all fairness, they have since approached us and asked to shake hands and move forward. I have a feeling it is just lip service but we shall see…
8Keith Pierce September 29th, 2015
Hats off to you guys, both for the way in which you dealt with your case and also how you have presented a balanced article for others planning to tread a similar path. Good luck for the future.
9AnnieV September 29th, 2015
We’ll be doing this one day, thanks for the useful advice. I’ve been a member of my local parish council and it would be fair to say that most PC members are there to stop anything interesting happening and to keep their parish as a heritage site. They don’t like solar panels, turbines, long hair, or anything designed later than 1900.
10Barbara Bristow September 29th, 2015
thanks for taking the time to write about your experience. Very helpful. We are running a small Care Farm and will need to build something in our field for group activities etc. Not looking forward to the process
11Chrissy October 5th, 2015
Despite everyone in ‘Authority’ saying “you CAN’T” do this/that/whatever, you actually CAN! LAWFULLY… You need to know WHO & WHAT you are.
Anyone about to embark on this sort of journey needs to look into COMMON LAW. If you buy/own land, YOU are the Authority. NOT the local council (who you will find are a COMPANY)… They all have a CEO. You are known as a CUSTOMER. Ask yourself WHY you are known as a customer. They are only the ‘Authority’, if you CONSENT to them having authority over you. Britain is a common law country. FACT…
STATUTE law (supposedly compulsory), is only LAW if YOU have CONSENTED to it. When did you last CONSENT to any STATUTE LAW?
A customer (you) is free to trade/contract with whomever they wish. EVERYTHING is about CONTRACT LAW. (FACT) When did you last sign a contract (jointly- with 2 signatures) with any council (company), HMRC (company), bank, (company) etc? Answer = Probably NEVER… BUT,,, if you filled in THEIR FORMS (their copyright), then you have contracted with them.
If you have entered a contract (unknowingly and without having knowledge of contract law) you can very likely revoke that contract.
Whatever journey you are on, and whether you go by existing ‘rules & regulations’ or common law ENTITLEMENTS, you should research COMMON LAW. It’s not easy nor a quick fix, but Common law, really is an eye opener. Look into it and thereafter be enlightened.
12Tim Gatfield October 7th, 2015
Thanks for a useful and balanced article. We followed a similar path here at The Cherry Wood Project and I endorse all your advice, particularly regarding neighbours and the local community. We were asked to apply for planning after 6 years of living on site and running a forestry and education business. The planning was split into living on site and change of use from forestry to mixed use and took a couple of years with the associated stress, frustration, worry and expense. In the end we were given a unanimous vote in council as an ‘ exemplary enterprise’, the only possible exemption to development in the Green Belt. We are also in an AONB. We should have done our research and realised how much tougher the rules are in restricted areas, we couldn’t have made it more difficult!
My only additional advice is to gather letters of support from your community. We had a business and volunteers running for 6 yeas before we were and were able to muster over 500 letters of support to counter the one complainant. If it goes to the planning committee the views of their voters count. I would also seek support from your local councillor, his support is important if the planning officer decides to reject your planning at his level because your councillor can ‘call it in’ to the planning committee where many officers decisions are overturned.
Nobody knows your business better than you, you are the best person to make your case but as Pete said, do your homework and really make your case on paper relating it to policy. Have confidence that if you are doing the right thing for the land and your local community you will succeed. The very best of luck.
13Terry Jones October 10th, 2015
Excellent read, old adage of knowledge being power never truer than when engaging in planning matters.
14kat October 29th, 2015
I can certainly sympathise with your experience with your community. Small rural communities like the one we moved into five years ago can very often be vile to newcomers, especially newcomers who don’t know their place and cow tow to the community’s self-appointed chiefs. We are animal lovers and environmentally aware and we are positively targetted by the community bullies ie parish council sorts and puffed up self-important ex army majors. We have had the lneighbouring farmer who accesses his fields via our land refusing to close gates cos he can’t be bothered and is happy to risk our animals lives; we have had our close neighbour blasting off his shotgun in his garden ten feet from us and even shooting squirrel in our garden; we have had threatening council letters caused by completely spurious complaints by the parish clerk on behalf of her mates in the community. The police even colluded with them to deny us justice because the officer was a fellow shooter and mate of our neighbours.
I would like to put some eco-friendly cabins or an animal sanctuary here but I know that the lies, hostility and collective revenge I would face would be intolerable, so I just can’t face starting. That communities, councillors and planners can get away with this behaviour in 2015 has completely destroyed my faith.
15Dave Darby October 29th, 2015
Just wow. Sounds like the local community from hell.
16Tony Wrench November 13th, 2015
Great article. The only thing I would add is that you can get to add to local planning policies by getting your name on a list of people to be consulted for new policies. You can suggest a One Planet Development or Low Impact policy to their forward planners, preferably from an organisation or association of some kind, and the forward planners will listen to you. It is long term, but if I had realised this when I was 30 and succeeded with it, I would have saved fifteen years of hassle later.
17Dave Darby November 14th, 2015
Thanks Tony. A few questions.
Are you saying you have to get your name on that list to be able to suggest a One Planet Development / Low-impact policy?
How do you get your name on that list?
When you say ‘preferably from an organisation’ – any kind of organisation, or one concerned with land/planning issues?
What’s the likelihood that this will work, and will get you a local One Planet Development policy? Do you know anyone who’s done it? Because I don’t think there is one in England.
18jon November 15th, 2015
Depends on the scale of your project and visibility and vicinity of site…. my advice… (having built and lived in a hobbit style hovel for 7 months) bollox to them all. They will just cause grief… out of sight, out of mind, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, why apply to only be given refusal….? Build from the earth in such a way as you wont mind if your ‘residence’ returns to it. Oh, one more thing…. if your ‘chimney’ (or lack thereof) is not of reliable quality, do not build your open fire to bonfirenight standards (even in case of snow), you will be sprinting hither and thither to the stream with a bucket and it will not be fun. Install a stove forthwith.
19Shaggy November 18th, 2015
I am very interested in this perspective and started to investigate it but got a bit lost trying to locate reliable cases and where/how to find relevant information. Can you recommend any routes to investigate this subject further or are you able to discuss this at all?
thanks very much for any help. I can leave my email address if you can discuss this further.
Also to Pete regarding the article. Thanks very much for spending the time to reflect on your experiences. It will always be useful to hear planning cases for this type of development.
20fiona smith December 4th, 2015
Hi, I have seen a 2 acre plot which i could buy, the plot is listed as equestrian, in the sales info it states half is wild and divided by a stream from the paddock. If i bought this land what do you think the chances are of me getting planning permission for a low impact off grid home?
21Alien Nomad October 19th, 2016
I am at retirement age and want to build a low impact home as a retirement home I do not want to work on the land but I do not want to be profligate in my final years on this planet. Any advice in getting planning permission or am I basically screwed by the system and forced to live in a non-ecological box on a housing estate?
22Ken Fraser November 1st, 2016
Great article and also many interesting comments and advice in the comments, thank you. I am a long way off achieving my dream of a hideaway shack in the woods. Like Alien, I have no plan to work the land, just create a small, low impact, off grid escape from the increasingly busy and pressurised world we are living in. As such I am particularly interested in comments regarding Aliens question.
23Dave Darby November 2nd, 2016
This is a very popular topic – we’re currently talking to specialists with the aim of building a ‘planning permission’ topic with basic information and specialists available to answer queries. Should be up and running within the next couple of months.
24Joshua Lowe January 14th, 2017
i found this very useful , me and my family have been living on our outdoor reared rabbit farm in two caravans for just over a year now and have been fighting the district council for almost half of that time. we didnt apply when we moved on because the local council gave us the wrong information so for all we knew we didnt require any planning permissions. now we have to either re apply or move off before march
25Derek February 14th, 2017
Can any one help me I have full planning for a barn but is it true that I can have a static caravan on my land and live in it have I build the barn
26Tim gatfield February 14th, 2017
Hi look up Vince and Katie at Courage Copse, n Devon. They did exactly that. Good luck Tim
27Derek February 28th, 2017
Is there any one out there with any ideas if I can live in a static caravan on my small holding while I build my barn I have full planning for, we have goat’s alpaca’s chinken’s duck’s geese and it’s getting bigger all the time
28Andrew Rollinson March 1st, 2017
The local authority give you short-term permission to live in a caravan on site during the building stage (isn’t that nice of them!). Depending on where you live will determine how much they police this, if at all. Some places are very lenient to the point of completely leaving you alone. I was also told by a self-builder that if after the short-term excemption, you move the caravan by a few centimetres, then this re-sets the “clock”. I don’t know if this is true or not.
29carole corden April 1st, 2017
Excellent read….it does seem very difficult at times when trying for planning….my son has just had his plans regected on the grounds that his 3 acre garden is green belt…his plans were for an eco-friendly house build on elevated land,most of the build would be underground,the highest point of the build would only be 8ft….no intrusion to any neighbours. …as can not be seen for the amount of trees on the perimeter of the land….and yet if he was to put planning in for social housing,it appears he would stand a good chance of getting it….it all seems a little unfair,that ruling can be changed for a different project on the same plot
30Vic Young May 10th, 2017
Planning departments are utterly hostile to anyone who has the temerity to assert their lawful right to build or place a home or structure on perfectly viable plots. Yet they routinely give planning permission to ghastly holiday parks with their endless lines of poorly designed, naff static caravans for use as holiday lets at inflated prices.
It is absolutely typical of nearly all planning departments that they tell you the rules, you apply and then they don’t bother to respond, but when pressed they then say you have not applied in the correct way, even though you SPECIFICALLY asked them to explain line by line the procedure.This transparent game playing is the default policy of none out of ten planning departments. They regard most applicants as the enemy. Of course if you already own and live in an agreeable large house with land, you can build outbuildings to your heart’s content provided they meet certain rules. Meanwhile there is an enormous housing crisis in the UK. Councils want to bunch everyone up into hideous estates.
As this blog illustrates, the only way to overcome planning departments is to play the absurd game they want you to play, entirely on their terms.The whole system stinks. Meanwhile the same planning departments routinely pass applications which result in the ugliest blots on the landscape, through corruption, back-handers, undue influence and corporate lobbying of the worst kind.
31hfguido June 8th, 2017
” Even if your planning officer does turn out to be a small-minded, fascist bigot who hates people with long hair/dreads/tattoos/imagination or whatever”.. The best and most accurate description of planning officers I have come across in my career as an Architect! – Great story, wish you guys all the best.
32Leonard July 13th, 2017
Everything you say here is of course practical, within the extremely limited options, most of which require you to be utterly obedient to the system rather than challenging the loaded difficulties within it. What you are saying is essentially “bow to the system”. Well, good for you, but the system stinks. The whole planning permission structure is full to the brim of ghastly people whose unearned power seeks to undermine you at every turn. “Playing” the system might result in rewards for the lucky and the few, but the fact is that planning laws are designed to keep the vast majority of all but the richest confined to designated areas of extremely dense housing in order to protect the open landscapes of the privileged. But it is described as “preservation” of green spaces.
The whole planning system is designed to extend the privileges of those lucky enough, through no effort of their own, to preserve their space and advantage, while ruthlessly suppressing the desires of others to seek a decent environment in which to exist.
No better example of this exists than North Norfolk council, which has introduced the bogus ideal of “sustainability” as an artificial tool by which to shit people out. In essence this means if you want to convert a barn or building for “holiday” accomodation you will be granted almost automatic planning permission. But if you wanted to convert a derelict building into a home – forget it. In other words, the council doesn’t want you to live there at all. It merely wants you to create a hotel so others can spend cash in their economy, even if you demonstrate that you have never “bled” the system for your own ends.
This utterly bogus concept of “sustainability” is a euphemism for “fuck off – we don’t want you”.
33Jase July 15th, 2017
Hi there..I’m in the process of building an off grid home….in the northeast (Durham). I can totally sympathise with all you have gone through with regards to planning I went though much of the same…They are for want of a better word “JOBS WORTHS “. I had a friend who was a retired planning officer without him I would have thrown in the towel.
Good luck and all the best from a fellow off grinder.
If anyone wants help,advice on off grid power give me a shout…I’ve learned a lot on solar, thermodynamic water heating and wind..
34Debby August 21st, 2017
Planning departments have to make a decision in 8 weeks. Don’t ever let your application be refused withdraw it ,revise it and reapply.
35mike September 11th, 2017
yea but no but – how come they give planning permission to build change adapt properties to build mosques 2000 of them that deprive people of houses and homes – 5 in one street in manchester according to Louise Casey who has lost her job because of her report????????
PC liberals on the council frightened of telling the truth?
36Cherry November 8th, 2017
I’m really seriously considering buying a plot of land and building an Earth Ship for my family.
Trouble is….the only land I can find is right in a housing estate, nestled between houses, which is not what we’re looking for.
The only other option is farm land/equestrian…which I’m assuming will be HELL to get planning for, if not impossible.
Maybe I should give up the dream before I’ve even tried. Seems like most people in the system are against eco living….why?!! ?
37joanna November 20th, 2017
Hi, just bought a lovely 2 acre plot just outside the village and applied for pre-app. this came back as not favourable although there were many discrepancies on the official letter, ie that there was a capped mineshaft on the land, no that is on the neighbours land, trees have been cut down and we need to consult the TPO, which we did before we chopped some of the trees down. We are in an area of the triple S site, that is 2 miles away and we are in an area where knotweed is know to thrive, that is over a mile away and we have had confirmation we have no knotweed, neither do any of our neighbours. The reply came back as extending into the open countryside. Now we are in between two houses, one of which has had planning permission to build a modern house, albeit I think there was something there already. There are 3 houses within a short vicinity who are all having renovations carried out. The Planning officer was aware that half the land was to be put to wild meadow as we keep bees and chickens. We are going to live off grid and have our own sewage system, sedum roof, small orchard, raised beds, in all be self sufficient. We have contacted the RSPB to come to look at how we can improve the wildlife situation as well as contacting the old Cornish apple orchard to make us aware of what we can plant. All this info was given to the Planning Officer but the reply is we are extending into open countryside, and as I say I can see our neighbours new build from the plot of land we have bought. The land has not been used for over 30 years and we had to hack our way in to see what we were going to buy. We have spoken with all our neighbours who came to see the land for the first time and who are fully in support of what we want to do and are willing to support us. How on earth can we live in a village where over 250 new houses have just been built on green land and yet what we deem to be an infill site with low impact dwelling, low impact on the nearby community be refused for extending into the oountryside when we are seeing everyone around us building. Once we had built the land and put everything in place for self sufficiency there would not be room for any other building on the land and I would not want it anyway. Has anyone out there got any way forward for us. I see remarks about planning consultants and planners but want to move forward on this fairly quickly as we are nearing completion of the sale of our house, which incidentally is going to be knocked down and 2 hours put on the site.
38Derek pear tree farm March 4th, 2018
Hi all I have a static caravan for storage of animal feed, medical things for us and the animals, to make tea get out of bad weather change clothes for us and our helper’s we do to sleep in it much only at kidding , sick animals and baby alpacas we do not have a house on our small holding ,so we now have a enforcement notice iam going to appeal what are my chances of keeping it as it is manly for storage and health and safety in the work place
39Derek pear tree farm March 4th, 2018
Ment to say We have ducks,geese,chinken’s turkeys, peacocks, goats, alpacas, pigs, for breeding ,and two small ponytail and now have a 5 caravans site to, do you think I need to live on my small holding now
40Dave Darby March 5th, 2018
Hi Derek – if you post your query on the planning page – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/0-planning-permission/ – I’ll get a specialist to answer it for you. Cheers.
41Phill March 27th, 2018
It seems like our planning system is set up to deter anyone from building anything. It shouldn’t cost thousands of pounds to go through the process as it discriminates between those who Have, and those that Have little.
42Becca April 26th, 2018
My family are looking to buy land to live work and build on. We found a plot that is pasture and woodland. We were told by the agent that we definitely won’t get planning for a dwelling, any advice should we risk it and purchase the land in hope or should we keep looking?
43Sophie Paterson April 26th, 2018
Hi Becca – if you post your query on the planning page – https://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/0-planning-permission/ – specialist Daniel Scharf may be able to advise. Thanks!
44carl April 3rd, 2022
In the State of Ohio, we have zoning laws, I (think) it has to do with the farmers being on the County council. We buy the land, and pay taxes on the land, and they dictate what we can do with this land, the laws are passed to have a permit to put in a Septic System, Then the Contractor names his price to have one put in, at his price weather it’s $20,000 OR WHAT EVER IT MIGHT BE, most people can’t afford their prices, And it is just not the Septic System, It’s Electric Contractors, and this goes on and on. I thought this was the land of the free, The land of the Brave.? I understand that we have to have laws to control diseases, but why can’t we control the prices of putting in these needful things.? It is just not happening in Ohio, it’s in every state, could it be Greed.? There is also a thing called Agriculture, (AG) Where the farmer can get money for the upcoming crop season, but I think there is another issue concerning (Ag) The money is good for the crop Planting, but the money is also used for buying (residential Property)?> Meaning (designed for people to live in) And the land some buy with that (AG) MONEY, I feel should not be used for this purpose. I have been at Auctions where it was being sold, And Farmer has brought the land at 5 times the value of the land because he gets a very low rate for the large amount of (AG) MONIES. Then I have seen residential Property divided from ONE ACRE OF LAND, DOWN TO ONE HALF OF ACRE OF LAND.! AND THEY TOOK THE BARNS FROM THE LAND FOR THEIR OWN USE! I want you all to understand I thank God, For the Farmer, and the food supply they produce for this world, but I have seen greed take over, are they thinking about the other people in their community.?
45carl April 3rd, 2022
Hope all works out.
46Lesley December 31st, 2022
Are there any more up to date posts on this subject, please?
47Michael Morris May 16th, 2023
Weve obtained planning permission for an off grid holiday let on a secluded area of our farm. It already has hard standing as it used to have an animal shelter on it.
It’s in an AONB and the plan was for it to be a ‘walk to’ destination across a field about 300m from parking.
One of the planning conditions specified no track could be made, to reduce impact and this worked as the principle was to leave the car at the farm gate etc.
We have now had our building control application turned down and there isn’t appropriate access for fire brigade etc. They want us to build a track and turning circle to comply.
The indication from the planners is we need to re apply for planning permission for a track but because it’s in an AONB It’s likely to be turned down by virtue of its visual impact, let alone the cost.
Any ideas or anyone come across this before?
48Tony Wrench May 17th, 2023
Great article. Very wise. Thanks for writing it. It is sad that so many people, including some commenters here, find compromise so difficult- hate and distrust don’t work, and lead to distress down the line. If it does come to a fight, though, I like Carlos Casteneda’s advice for ‘stalkers’ - his word for warriors- choose your battleground. Seek good supporters and go with the flow. Don’t fight a lost cause.
49Lesley May 17th, 2023
Don’t give up! Against all the odds, we have just had an enforcement notice quashed. We converted an exciting building, an old pumping station, into a home. The trouble being that although it was previously developed land, it was on the green belt, so the council issued an enforcement notice. Everyone though we had no chance at all, but the appeal hearing was presided over by a very understanding and knowledgeable planning inspector who didn’t agree with the council’s belief that our home was detrimental to the open surroundings, etc.
it’s been five long years and a lot of stress, but it was worth it as we can now enjoy our retirement without the worry of finding somewhere else to live.
50DTC May 17th, 2023
@V4Venk September 26th, 2015
Because this is an off-grid house, if anything the roof isn't steep enough for the UK. I suspect the figure of 35degs you are quoting is for maximum energy capture throughout the year. This is ok with an on-grid system because you are effectively selling and then rebuying the summer excess electricity (at a loss of course as the economy of solar is rigged in favour of the electricity companies) through the leaner months.The grid effectively becomes your solar power battery storage system However, an off-grid system needs to be planned differently. In an off -rid system you need have the panels angled more vertical toward the winter sun as you can't store the excess energy from the summer easily or cheaply for winter when you use more, but generate less. As a result, you need to enable to panels to maximise the power in winter, which in the UK gives a much steeper roof theoretically as the panels need to point down lower to the horizon. The sun in winter in Manchester gets to a maximum height of 30.5degs in winter, so your roof pitch needs to actually be 58.9degs, much steeper than the one shown in reality. Also, to maximise the actual winter sun input it may even need to be even steeper depending on the direction and when you need to capture the power of the sun as it gets lower in the day. There will no doubt be an ideal angle but that is based on other factors.
It's easy enough to calculate the max and min angles of the sun because the earth is tilted at 23.5degs. So, the sun achieves a maximum of lat+23.5degrees in summer and a minimum of Lat-23.5degrees in winter. For Manchester at 54degs that works out at a maximum of 77.5deg in summer and 30.5degs in winter. This means you are working in a roof pitch between a min of 12..5deg in summer and 59.5degs in winter for midday, with the roof pitch for most solar panel efficiency rising either side of noon as the sun is lower in the sky.
6Anna and Pete Grugeon September 27th, 2015 show a good reference for an automatic calculator of the tilt angle of the solar panels at http://solarelectricityhandbook.com/solar-angle-calculator.html
From that calculator it shows that the actual optimum winter angle is only 12degs from the vertical in Dec, almost totally vertical. If they have the space, it may even make sense to build the solar panels at ground level elsewhere with the ability to optimise the angle throughout the year.