We’re back in harness after our summer recess, and looking forward to whatever projects unfold for us over the next few months. Whilst we’ve seen a Brexit-related hold across much of the construction industry over the past year, we’re really hoping that some form of a resolution from the Government (lord knows which way) over the next few months will give developers the confidence to re-mobilise and start building again. But before you put a spade in the ground or grab for that wrecking ball, it’s worth remembering that there are some critical issues around demolition that must be resolved before making a material start on site. Particularly relevant for brownfield and heritage projects, here’s a heads-up on what you need to know about the planning regime for knocking things down:

  • Demolition as ‘Development’ – planning permission is needed if the work being carried out meets the statutory definition of ‘development’, as set out in Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. ‘Development’ includes building operations, such as structural alterations, construction, rebuilding and most demolition. So demolition will generally require planning consent, whether in the form of full permission or prior approval;
  • Outside Conservation Areas – demolition of a building, apart from a pub, outside Conservation Areas is permitted development under Part 11 of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. Planning permission is not required because demolition is already granted subject to conditions set out in Part 11. However, prior approval of the method of demolition and proposed restoration of the site will, in most circumstances, still be required by the LPA. Outside Conservation Areas, no permission or prior approval is required to demolish any building under 50 cubic metres of the whole or any part of any gate, fence, wall or other means of the enclosure;
  • Within Conservation Areas – controls are much stricter within Conservation Areas where all demolition requires full planning permission, with the exception of buildings of less than 50 cubic metres. Buildings of less than 115 cubic metres are also exempt as permitted development under Part 11, as are gates, fences, walls or other means of enclosure less than 1 metre high abutting a highway, waterway or open space, or 2m in height in any other case (although  prior approval may still be required). Demolishing an unlisted building in a Conservation Area without the required permission in place is a criminal offence – so it really is worth any delay in sorting out the paperwork;
  • Protect your Permitted development – as a heads up demolition is not permitted by Part 11 where a building has been rendered unsafe or uninhabitable by the action/inaction of anyone having an interest in the land, and which can be made secure through repair or temporary support. In other words, you’ll lose your permitted development rights to demolish a building if you intentionally neglect it for the purposes of avoiding the consent process; 
  • The full deal – where full permission is required, and where the demolition of one or more buildings is necessary as part of a redevelopment, details of the demolition can be included in the planning application. This is more sensible/cost-effective than a separate submission, as it gives the LPA the opportunity to consider demolition alongside other aspects of the development. To avoid any ambiguity, make sure you explicitly refer to demolition in the description of the development and be prepared to accept planning conditions on demolition-related matters (although these should be separate from any pre-commencement conditions); 
  • Prior Approval  – the prior approval process involves the submission of a written description of the proposed methods of demolition and restoration of the site to the LPA (you are also obliged to erect a site notice). They will then determine whether prior approval is required for either method and may grant or refuse it, but if you’ve not received an indication either way within 28 days, then demolition may begin without prior approval (its effectively a mini-application with very limited issues up for consideration, although the onus is very much on the LPA to deliver a timely decision);
  • Sensitive structures – no planning permission or prior approval is required for the demolition of listed buildings or scheduled ancient monuments (either within or outside Conservation Areas), because these are covered by separate consent regimes. Listed building and scheduled ancient monument consent will very likely be required, so always check with your LPA about what you need before you do any works to these sensitive structures; 
  • Pubs matter – as above, full consent is required for the demolition of any pub or other drinking establishments within the A4 Use Class, including those with an expanded food offer. We’re not entirely clear why – probably because of the desire to protect their community benefit; 
  • Environmental Impacts – in some instances, demolition alone may trigger the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which in turn will prompt the need for full planning consent. LPA’s may need to consider whether demolition projects are likely to have significant environmental effects and thus require a screening opinion to be issued (demolition projects can fall within Schedule 2 of the 2017 EIA Regs, particularly the ‘urban development’ category). So if in any doubt, submit a request for an EIA screening opinion from your LPA, or approach them for confirmation that one isn’t required; 
  • And finally, watch out for CIL – as an act of development, demolition can constitute a material start on site and thus trigger the payment of your Community Infrastructure Levy (or at least your first installment), so think carefully about your timings if you don’t want to part with your cash just yet. 

So, the message is simply not to rush onto site clutching your planning consent and baying for action. Demolition of any significant scale is very likely to require some form of consent, and heritage settings are particularly sensitive. Take the time to ensure that you fully understand your requirements and get them secured, and don’t forget to discharge any demolition-related conditions. Above all, do not so much as even tickle a building if you’re in any way unsure about its demolition status, or you could walk into a whole heap of angst. The DCLG website provides detailed guidance on all matters demolition https://www.gov.uk/guidance/when-is-permission-required, or of course give us a shout and we’ll help you find a way through.