Understanding the rules of planning permission in France can be a tricky business and gaining permission to build or alter a property can be time consuming to achieve. It’s something we at The Good Life France have all experienced for ourselves at one time or another, either for renovating, adding to for a new build.
Planning permission in France
Before seeking planning permission in France, first look at the local planning rules contained in the PLU, Plan Local d’Urbanisme which you should be able to get from your local town hall (Mairie). In smaller rural communes the preparation of a PLU may be replaced with a simplified version called a Carte Communale In some areas the PLU may be called a POS – Plan d’Occupation des Sols.
PLU Plan Local d’Urbanism
The PLU will set out the ground rules for what you can and can’t do and will contain details such as how close your house can be to the nearest road, what materials you can or can’t use, the shape of the windows etc. Checking this document first means that you may save time and money by knowing in advance if something won’t be permitted.
The PLU sets out the details for zoning of the commune as follows and shows the different types of
Zone 1- Urban (U) Exisiting areas of development and infrastructure in place to support new construction
Zone 2 – areas of future urbanization (AU) for habitat or activity (SEA), where infrastructure is in place or is planned to support development. Urbanization can be gradual, conducted as part of a comprehensive development operation or postponed to a future revision of the PLU. In this case, the classification is only symbolic.
Zone 3 – recreational areas (AUL), reserved for sports and cultural activities.
Zone 4 – agricultural areas (A), any new construction will be restricted to agricultural or possibly public service facilities.
Zone 5 – protected areas of nature (N), which must be preserved for their landscapes.
Zone 6 – the wooded area, prohibits the clearing of the most beautiful woodlands in the municipality.
Zone 7 – elements of heritage buildings and gardens of interest.
The PLU will also set out rules such as the maximum footprint and height of buildings in an area, road and sanitation access and requirements and treatment of green areas.
For more information on the PLU the French website www.plu-info.net has lots of details though not in English.
You won’t need planning permission for every job – the law states that you will require permission to a change of use for instance a barn conversion; a change to the exterior appearance; to add extra storeys of accommodation; a change to the interior habitable surface area. Of course these are broad descriptions and you should certainly check with your Town Hall if whatever you plan to do requires planning permission and if so which type.
The Carte Communale ” delineates areas where buildings are permitted and areas where buildings are not allowed” – Excerpt from the article L 124-2 of the Code of Urban Development
Unlike the PLU no specific planning rules may be established and it’s a much less operational document than the PLU but basically its aim is to identify areas that allow development or not. The peculiarity is that it states that in some areas where construction is not permitted, it is possible to renovate or extend an existing building. The construction is permitted under an adaptation of a change in circumstances or if it’s necessary for public facilities.
Planning Permission to alter or renovate existing property in France
Generally you’ll find planning consent is required for all works to existing buildings where the works either increase the external surface area, or create new surface levels. Some building work doesn’t require planning consent, but may require submission of a declaration to carry out work Déclaration préalable de travaux . As a general rule you will not need to declare the work you are carrying out or get permission if the area you are renovating or building is less than 2m² – it doesn’t depend on the net usable space but to the external surface area as a whole. If the area is over 2m² but under 20m² then you must fill out a declaration that you will be carrying out work. Anything over 20 m² will mean a Permit is required. However, it’s not always clear which rule applies so you should always check with the Town Hall and the planning authority to make sure you get it right. As at January 2012 there is talk of change to the planning permission system to simplify it, however this is not yet cut and dried and Government websites have not been updated with new information. The forms for planning permission seem to change from one year to the next as various Government bodies try to simplify the processes. Town Hall staff will help you with details.
To add to any confusion you might already have, some local councils and officials might interpret the rules differently from you or even from each other so make sure that you get the permit in writing before you start any work. Be aware that if you do go ahead and carry out work that hasn’t been approved, depending on the circumstances you can be prosecuted and fined heavily or imprisoned – although this is unlikely it’s not worth the risk.
In our experience
Janine’s story: When we decided we wanted to renovate existing buildings and build a small conservatory we asked our neighbours first if they would have any objection even though they wouldn’t be able to see the results from anywhere on their property. They didn’t and they told us that it would be fine to go ahead, we didn’t need planning permission as no one could see the work from the road and that everyone just built whatever they wanted. To be honest it does seem that way but as the foreign newcomers to the village we thought it best to just check with the Town Hall. We had no idea where to start with planning permission in France rules and the Town Hall staff tried to help but they didn’t seem to have any idea themselves and they suggested that as the only additional building was under a certain size (<20m) it would only need a declaration of the work we wished to do -not full blown planning permission. We did the drawings, downloaded the forms, got permission from the Town Hall with a full stamped approval form and were sent off to deliver our paperwork to the local Direction Départementale d’Equipement (DDE) – responsible for county planning and highways. After several letters from the DDE and multiple visits by us to the DDE, the secretary at the Town Hall advised in a hushed voice “of course you know you won’t get permission unless you use an architect for the drawings – they never give permission without that” – this was over a year since we had received the permission from the Town Hall to go ahead.
We went to an architect that week she explained that although the additional building was less than 20m², the overall area of renovation was far more. She drew up plans, downloaded more forms – this time a permit to construct (Permis de Constuire) and sent them off to the DDE – we received permission 5 days later!