Planning and building

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Key facts

  • Planning permission and building regulations apply if you are considering starting a business offering serviced or self-catering accommodation, if you plan to convert, extend or make structural alterations to an existing property or construct a new building.
  • Contact the planning department of your local authority for advice on planning permission.
  • Asbestos can be found in buildings and can pose a serious health risk. You must identify whether the building contains asbestos, keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials, assess any risk, and prepare a plan to manage that risk.

Please note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has announced the following measures:

Essential first steps

Planning permission and building regulations are the essential first steps if you are considering offering serviced or self-catering accommodation. Serviced accommodation includes:

  • hotels
  • guesthouses
  • bed and breakfasts
  • farmhouses
  • inns.

Planning permission

You should contact the planning department of your local authority for advice on planning permission at a very early stage if you are considering:

  • starting a new business
  • converting or extending your premises.

Planning policies on providing tourism businesses, especially visitor accommodation, will be set out in the authority's Local Development Framework.

'Change of use'

Even if you only wish to start offering a simple bed and breakfast in your home or to equip an existing building as a holiday cottage where no structural alterations to the property will be carried out, you may need 'change of use' planning permission to do so.

Change of use consent

There is sometimes confusion about whether converting a property from a residential dwelling to a bed and breakfast establishment requires the owner to gain 'change of use' approval. This confusion stems from two sources - the first being that there are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes 'change of use' and the second from the fact that there are two change of use requirements:

  • the first is related to planning permission
  • the second is related to building regulations.

Planning permission change of use content

In planning terms, consent from the council must be gained if there is any 'material' change of use to a property or building. In most cases it is relatively straightforward as to what constitutes a material change of use (e.g. converting a house into a commercial building or a block of flats).

However, there is a grey area as to how much change is allowed before that change materially affects the purpose for which building is used. That is, at what point does a residential house become a premises whose main purpose is to offer accommodation for visitors? This issue is particularly relevant for bed and breakfast properties where the property is simultaneously a residential property and a commercial property.  

To clarify this area, local authorities have developed a range of measures to determine whether a material change of use has occurred and planning consent is required. These rules generally relate to the proportion of the property that has been given over to the business. This can be determined in a number of ways, the most usual relating to:

  • the number of bedrooms as a proportion of the total number of bedrooms in the property, or
  • the area of the building used for the B&B as a proportion of the total building.

However, some local authorities use the 'six-bed rule', i.e. consent for change of use must be sought where the business provides six or more bedspaces (not to be confused with bedrooms) for customers.

If you are considering operating a B&B, you should consult with the local authority planning officers to determine whether change of use consent is required. Even if you have previously operated a similar B&B in another destination where no consent was required, you should contact the council as their interpretation of a material change to the use of a property could be different.

Building regulations change of use consent

The second change of use requirement is under the Building Regulations 2000.

Under the Building Regulations, there is a material change of use where there is a change in the purposes for which, or the circumstances in which, a building is used, so that after the change 'the building is used as an hotel or a boarding house, where previously it was not'. As with determining whether planning consent is required, different local authorities have different guidelines as to whether a property is deemed to be a hotel or boarding house under these regulations. Potential B&B operators should check with their local authority to determine whether change of use consent is required.

You should also note that the Building Regulations' definition of 'material change of use' differs substantially from the meaning of 'material change of use' in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which has given rise to a great deal of litigation. Planning permission may be required for a change of use where Building Regulation approval is not needed and vice versa.

If consent is required, you must make an application using the 'Full Plans' application process, as domestic buildings that are not exclusively used as private dwellings (e.g. holiday accommodation and dwellings providing bed and breakfast) are subject to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

  • Note: even if planning consent is not required, you may still require building regulations consent. You may also require building regulations consent even if you are not contemplating any structural changes in turning your house into a Bed and Breakfast establishment.

Granting planning permission

Local authorities' policies on granting planning permission vary and any proposal will be checked against these policies. In deciding whether or not to grant planning permission, where it is needed, the council will take into account the effects on neighbours and the environment, the loss of residential accommodation, traffic generation, access from the highway, car parking facilities and the number of bedrooms offered for letting.

Restrictions on what you can do are usually stricter in specially protected areas such as:

  • National Parks
  • Green belts
  • Conservation areas
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Note: you may also need consent for any signage for your property (see the 'Signs for your premises' section).

Building regulations

Building regulations apply whenever a building is erected, extended, materially altered or made subject to a material change of use. They also cover other works and fittings such as:

  • new drainage and sanitary installations
  • new heating installations
  • structural alterations to a building
  • alterations which have an effect on the existing means of escape in fire
  • replacement windows and external doors in dwellings
  • electrical installations in dwellings
  • change to a building's energy status and renovation or replacement of thermal elements of a building (such as re-roofing, replacement cladding, re-plastering, dry lining, external render, and renovation or replacement of existing floors).

Note: even if you are not thinking of altering your house to accommodate bed and breakfast guests, and planning permission is not required, you may still be required to do work to your property in order to meet building regulations requirements. Again, you need to contact the building control department of your local authority as early as possible.

Energy Performance Certificates

All properties that are newly built, sold or rented are required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). These certificates provide information on a building’s energy use and carbon dioxide emissions and are accompanied by a report with suggestions on how to reduce them. A Certificate is valid for 10 years, after which it must be renewed.

A building’s EPC must be provided to any person who wishes to purchase or rent the building. However, an EPC is not required where a property is:

  • Rented out for less than a cumulative period of four months within a 12 month period, or
  • Rented out through a licensing arrangement whereby the holiday-maker does not have exclusive use of the property during the period of their booking.

This means that self-catering properties are not required to gain and provide EPCs for customers, provided that the agreement under which the property is let is a ‘licence to occupy’. A licence to occupy is the type of agreement that hotels have with customers, whereby staff can enter the property to undertake essential work, rather than a tenancy agreement whereby the landlord must gain the permission of the tenant to enter the property.

Managing asbestos

Regulations governing the management of asbestos in non-domestic properties are the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.

Many buildings throughout the country contain asbestos, which can pose a serious health risk if not managed properly.

The legal duty relates to its management, not necessarily its removal. The regulations require you to:

  • identify whether the building contains asbestos
  • keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials
  • assess the risk and prepare a plan to manage that risk.

The guestrooms and all common parts (e.g. corridors/dining room) of your property will be considered to be non-domestic and therefore subject to the regulations. Any private areas used only by the owner of the accommodation will be considered to be domestic and therefore not subject to the regulations. This applies to both serviced and self-catering accommodation.

If you think that your property contains asbestos, seek advice from an expert. Asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed: if it is safely managed and contained it does not present a health risk.

Note: The Health & Safety Executive is currently consulting on amending the Control of Asbestos Regulations. However, the main changes being considered relate to decreasing the frequency of health tests for workers involved in licensable asbestos work and therefore any new regulations should not impact on your responsibilities for managing asbestos on your property.