Do You Need Planning Permission For A Conservatory?

Written by  John Davies
Last updated: July 28, 2023

Like most construction in the United Kingdom, the construction of conservatories is regulated by your local council. However, when building a smaller conservatory, you may not need to seek permission. However, it is of the utmost importance that you get this right.

If you build a conservatory and cannot gain the proper permits, you may be forced to demolish it at your own expense. Along with the initial fees for construction, this will add up to a serious amount of wasted time and money. Therefore, make sure to get it right the first time.

We will provide you with all the details you need to build a gorgeous conservatory without facing any fines or legal problems.

What is the Legal Definition of a Conservatory?

While the legal term for the structure is a conservatory, people call these sunny rooms by many other names. Some call it a sun-room, garden-room, or an orangery. In other English-speaking countries, they may call it a greenhouse. Either way, it means (more or less) the same thing.

For many years, the dictionary definition of a conservatory was a room with a good deal of sunlight used primarily to grow plants.

However, many people use these rooms for other purposes such as relaxation, reading, and the pursuit of other leisure activities. However, building a multi-purpose conservatory can pose some challenges for homeowners. A building must contain a fixed amount of glass or polycarbonate glazing to qualify as a conservatory for permit purposes in this country.

The structure’s wall must have at least 50% of either, while at least 75% of the roof must be similarly constructed from translucent material. Glass and polycarbonate glazing are designed to allow heat through. After all, they are initially intended for growing plants rather than whiling away pleasurable hours.

Therefore, most conservatories become uncomfortable in the summer. In addition, you may find that they get uncomfortably chilly in wintertime.

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What Kind of Roof Can I Legally Build for a Conservatory?

Therefore, many homeowners are tempted to build a fixed roof. In that case, your structure will not qualify as a conservatory.  That may alter the status of your extension, and you may require a permit. If so, when building a conservatory, make sure to keep to the necessary materials.

Otherwise, it will not qualify under current regulations. Does that mean you have to roast like a chicken in the summer and freeze like, well, frozen poultry in winter? Not at all. One way around these limitations is to fit an insulated ceiling to the existing external roof-line.

Remember, no matter what you do on the inside, as long as the external structure remains intact. The room continues to qualify as a conservatory for legal and planning purposes.

If you intend to use the conservatory for any purpose aside from housing plants, we strongly suggest that you take advantage of this opportunity. The insulation will make the room more pleasant in the summer and stop you from feeling like an ant under a magnifying glass. Meanwhile, the glazing will also help retain warmth in the winter and help create a cozy room for winter reading.

What Kind of Conservatory Can I Build Without Permission?

The rules used to be quite confusing, and most large conservatories were in strict need of a permit. However, in May 2019, the government made it far easier to build without receiving official permission. They also took steps to streamline the process and made it far easier to comprehend.

The government made the changes to address serious concerns raised by constituents. Many complained that costs and regulations made it prohibitively costly for growing British families to expand their homes. Therefore, many families relocated or even reconsidered their family planning options.

The rules are primarily designed to make the lives of constituents easier. However, the government has expressed its hope that the new regulations will make construction easier and thereby facilitate an improved housing market.

Limits on the New Rules

Before May 2013, only a conservatory under 4 metres in length was eligible for a detached home. Meanwhile, you could only build a conservatory of up to 3 meters in length in a separate or terraced property. However, now a structure of up to 8 metres can be built without council approval.

The new size constraints are well above the needs of most individuals. Therefore, today most new conservatories in the United Kingdom do not require a permit. They tend to fall under the rubric of ‘permitted development’ rules.

Just make sure that the conservatory complies with those regulations. However, the limit depends on the type of home the conservatory is attached to:

  • If you live in a detached house, you can build up to 8 metres. For comparison, that is about the length of an average bus. So, it is quite a roomy structure.
  • If you live in a semi-detached or terraced house, your non-permit requiring conservatory can measure up to 6 metres. This size should be suitable for most needs.
  • If you live in flats or maisonettes, these rules do not apply. You will need to obtain full planning permission.
  • If you remove any exterior doors or walls in the process of construction, you will need to apply for a full permit.

Keep in mind that if you live in an area of special scientific interest or one that is protected, these new rules do not apply.  Some places where you will still need to follow the entire procedure, alongside other possible limitations, include: Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) Conservation areas National Parks World Heritage Sites. Most properties in the United Kingdom have ‘permitted development’ rights.

However, some buildings have had those rights removed for various reasons. In that case, you will need to apply for full permissions.

What Are the Benefits of Building A Conservatory Without Permission?

Obtaining permits is a long process, which can sometimes delay construction by several months. The average construction time for a conservatory in the United Kingdom today is around three months. That is down from almost double that in the recent past.

Another significant benefit is that there are fewer relevant standards and regulations. Therefore, you will enjoy a relatively free hand in the design. Lack of strict supervision over structures at or under the permissible size can also save you thousands of Pounds. Obtaining permits and conforming to highly specified standards may cost a pretty penny.

Keep in mind that you will be required to submit full structural plans if you do need to apply for a permit. One of the main elements they will look for is the heat-loss calculations. The council will require assurance that the structure is energy-efficient. If it isn’t, you may struggle to obtain a permit.

How Do These Rules Work in Practice?

When you build a conservatory, you no longer must undergo a long and painful process of obtaining express permission. However, that does not mean that it is the Wild West when it comes to building conservatories. As a homeowner, you still have some reporting duties and responsibilities to uphold. You need to inform your local council.

The council is required to notify your neighbours of your construction plans. However, it is a particularly good idea to tell them yourself to maintain strong neighbourly relations. This is where things can get complicated. The council is legally required to take their comments seriously. Therefore, if they believe that it will harm the character or the resident’s potential quality of life or enjoyment.

If they do raise objections along those lines, they must commence a process of independent evaluation. You will be allowed to make your case in due time as well. Unfortunately, if they raise any objections, you will have to submit complete construction plans to the council for their approval.

Hopefully, you will receive a fair hearing. However, the council has the final say. Therefore, they may amend or block your plans if they feel it is necessary. For this reason, we strongly advise that you handle this on a personal level before informing the council. That way, you are reasonably assured of smooth sailing after reporting your intention to build a conservatory.

What Else Do I Need to Know About Getting Permission for a Conservatory?

Everything written here is updated and correct as of the time of writing (May 2021). However, keep in mind that regulations occasionally change, and it is important to have the most up-to-date information at your fingertips before you start planning your conservatory.

If you are building a new home, keep your conservatory construction needs in mind. Ask your developer if the property has any restrictions on it. If there are no restrictions, you may be able to void paying VAT by taking advantage of an HMRC exemption.

Visit Planning Portal and for the latest official information. You can’t cover up for infractions by saying you didn’t know about them. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the builder to get it right. You can find out more about conservatories and the costs associated with having your own conservatory here.

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