Planning permission to replace burnt down house

Q We’re buying some land that’s got the remains of a house on it and want to get planning permission to rebuild the house for ourselves. The original house was burnt down years ago and never replaced. We’ve been told that because there was a house, we should be able to replace it. There’s a base left and the bottoms of some walls. Are we likely to get planning permission?

A Assuming the land in question is in the open countryside – that is, outside the council defined boundaries of towns and villages – the starting point is that planning permission isn’t likely to be given, unless there are particular exceptional circumstances. One of those circumstances can be replacing an existing house.

Here, the existing house was destroyed. There’s a rule in planning that says uses don’t survive the destruction of a building. In ordinary language, that means there’s no right to continue a use once the building’s gone. Normally, though, councils do allow destroyed houses to be replaced.

However, there’ll come a point where the interval between the destruction and the submission of an application to rebuild gets so long that this becomes increasingly more doubtful. There’s no general rule set down for this period, although I’ve come across an example of a council policy that specified five years. It sounds like the fire was many years ago. Consequently, it’s not very likely that the council will now allow the house to be rebuilt.

Before giving up, though, you might as well put the question to a planning officer. If you’re not already committed to the purchase, I would certainly not continue until you’ve spoken to an officer and got a clear statement that rebuilding would be approved. You should then consider offering to sign an option or enter a conditional contract, subject to getting planning permission.

You’re on very shaky ground and, unless you’d be prepared to buy the land anyway or have a very high risk threshold, you should ensure you don’t buy unless you know you’ve got planning permission.

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