Planning and building

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • Planning permission and building regulations apply if you are considering starting a business, or 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.

Note: in May 2022, the Government introduced the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to Parliament. This Bill, if enacted, includes considerable changes to the planning process, including measures to simplify and standardise the local planning process, making the pavement licensing system introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent, the introduction of ‘street votes’ on planning proposals, and the use of Local Plan Commissioners to take over plan-making in some cases.

Essential first steps

Planning permission and building regulations are the essential first steps if you are considering starting an attraction or serviced accommodation business. 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 for tourism businesses – especially visitor attractions and accommodation – will be set out in your local authority's Local Development Framework.

'Change of use'

The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) puts uses of land and buildings into various categories known as 'Use Classes'.

Accommodation is Use Class C, with the provision of serviced tourism accommodation such as hotels and guesthouses being Use Class C1.

Attractions such as museums and galleries are Use Class F1, while attractions such as theatres, amusement arcades/centres or funfairs are outside this classification system and have their own specific Use Class. Always check with your council whether the property that you are planning to use for your business is the appropriate Use Class for your purpose.

If the existing Use Class is not appropriate for your intended use, you will have to apply to the Council for 'change of use' consent. This is required both within a Use Class (for example, changing a property from residential use (C3) to a guesthouse (C1)), or from one Use Class to another (such as changing a property from a retail store (E(a)) to a museum (F1)).

Depending on the specifics of any proposed change of use, including any building work associated with the proposal, it may require an application for planning permission or prior approval.

Even if you only wish to start offering a simple bed and breakfast in your home, or open a small museum or visitor centre in an outbuilding on your property where no structural alterations to the building will be carried out, you may need change of use planning permission to do so.

Change of use consent and bed and breakfasts

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 function to a property or building. In most cases, it is relatively straightforward as to what constitutes this (for example, converting a house into a commercial building or a block of flats).

However, there is a grey area as to how much alteration is allowed before that change materially affects the purpose for which the 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 establishments 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 therefore 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 business as a proportion of the total building.

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

If you are considering operating a bed and breakfast, 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 bed and breakfast 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 bed and breakfast 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 (for example holiday accommodation and bed and breakfasts) 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. When 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 designated 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.
  • Electrical installations.
  • Change to a building's energy status, and renovation or replacement of thermal elements of a building (such as roofing, cladding, plastering, dry lining, external render and existing floors).

Permitted Development Rights

Permitted Development Rights are the ability to undertake certain types of building work without needing to apply for planning permission. In August 2020, the Government extended Permitted Development Rights to include the ability for homeowners to increase the size of their homes by adding:

  • Up to two additional storeys, where the existing house consists of two or more storeys, or;
  • One additional storey, where the existing house consists of only one storey.

However, there are a large number of restrictions on the operation of this right, including the following:

  • The house was constructed before 1 July 1948 or after 28 October 2018.
  • Additional storeys have already been added to the original house, whether by operation of this right or otherwise.
  • Following the development, the height of the highest part of the roof does not exceed 18 metres.

Bear in mind that the Permitted Development Rights which apply to many common projects for houses do not apply to flats, maisonettes or other buildings. Similarly, commercial properties have different permitted development rights from dwellings.

It is important to note that Permitted Development Rights are more restricted in specially designated areas, such as national parks and AONBs.

Contact the planning department of your local council to check the Permitted Development Rights that apply to your area and your particular building.

Note: even if you are not thinking of altering a building 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 if 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 holidaymaker does not have exclusive use of the property during the period of their booking;
  • A listed building;
  • A stand-alone building with total useful floor space of less than 50 sq metres.

This means that accommodation operators 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

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

For non-domestic properties, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012  provide a framework for the management of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), and any work activity involving asbestos. Dutyholders must ensure that anyone who carries out any work in non-domestic premises and any occupants of the premises are not exposed to asbestos from ACMs that may be present.

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

  • Identify whether the building contains ACMs.
  • Keep an up-to-date record of the location and condition of ACMs.
  • Assess the risk and prepare a plan to manage that risk.

All parts of your property that are non-domestic will be subject to the regulations. Any private areas used only by the owner will be considered to be domestic and therefore not subject to the regulations.

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.