How Do I Get Planning Permission in Richmond Upon Thames?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Richmond contemporary new build home

Richmond is one of the most difficult boroughs to get planning permission. Richmond’s Planning Officers enforce a highly conservative and area-specific set of rules designed to preserve the borough’s unique character, and the character of each of its Conservation Areas.

In our 25 years of experience working in Richmond, we’ve won over 75 planning permissions for our clients, from delicate restorations of listed buildings to spectacular new homes which push the boundaries of architecture and design.

With preparation, knowledge and expert help, it is possible to get planning permission in Richmond for homes you might assume are impossible in this strict and protective borough.


How difficult is it to get planning permission in Richmond?


The most significant factor in whether or not your plans will be accepted by Richmond council is the level of planning protection the home in question receives.

In order of planning difficulty, the planning protections for homes in Richmond are:

  1. Listed Building

  2. Building of Townscape Merit

  3. Home in a Special Conservation Area

  4. Home in a Conservation Area

  5. Non-designated home outside of a Conservation Area


How do I get planning permission for a listed building in Richmond?


At the top are listed buildings. These are buildings which are included in Historic England’s national register for their architectural or historic value. Listed buildings are ranked Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II depending on the level of “special interest”.

There are only a handful of Grade I listed buildings in Richmond (including Wick Cottage, below) but over 1000 Grade II, giving the borough one of the highest concentration of listed buildings in the country.

Wick Cottage, Grade I Listed family home in RichmondWick Cottage is a Grade I listed house in Richmond, where we provided pre-planning advice to support our client’s successful planning application.

It is a criminal offence to damage any part of listed building, inside or out, and even minor alterations can be considered damage. To perform works on a listed building, you must acquire listed buildings consent from Historic England as well as planning permission from Richmond Council.

A planning application for a listed building must include a robust package of supporting documents from your architect, historic buildings consultants, archaeologists, structural engineers and more, along with pre-planning consultations with Richmond’s planning and conservation officers.

Liaising with this team of consultants and compiling a planning application with a high chance of a success is a monumental undertaking and is only feasible with help from an architect with extensive experience in the planning process for listed buildings.

Grade II Listed planning application and restoration on Richmond HillSpring Terrace is our award-winning restoration of a Grade II listed Georgian house on Richmond Hill, commended by the Richmond Society as a “remarkable job”.

We’ve negotiated directly and successfully many times with Nicolette Duckham, Richmond’s Principal Conservation Officer.

These negotiations are very much a back-and-forth dialogue where we demonstrate the benefits of our plans and our appreciation for the historic value of the building, pushing for elements which are important for our clients while conceding on details important to the conservation officers.

Most of this happens through a lengthy pre-planning process long before any final drawings are submitted. It is a substantial investment in both time and money, and a challenging and delicate logistical undertaking.


How do I get planning permission for a Building of Townscape Merit in Richmond? 


Buildings of Townscape Merit are a planning protection unique to Richmond. Also known as locally listed buildings or “non-designated heritage assets”, these buildings are considered important to heritage at a local level but are not formally listed.

There are over 7,000 Buildings of Townscape Merit in Richmond, most of which are in one of the borough’s many Conservations Areas.

Tudor Cottage in East Sheen, Richmond upon ThamesThis mock Tudor cottage in East Sheen isn’t listed, but its status as a Building of Townscape Merit made achieving planning permission just as challenging.

Officially, a Building of Townscape Merit does not require any special consent to acquire planning permission. In practice, however, you should expect that planning officers will treat the protection almost as seriously as they would a listed building.

While it may not be a criminal offence to damage a listed building, Richmond council is able to serve an enforcement notice demanding that you return the building to its original state. Once again, what is considered “damage” is up to the conservation officers.

A planning application for a Building of Townscape Merit must be just as robust as it would be for a listed building, with the same level of detail and the same pre-planning negotiations with Richmond’s conservation officers.

How do I get planning permission in a Conservation Area in Richmond?


Richmond has 85 Conservation Areas, covering a huge swathe of the borough’s housing stock. Most of the homes that we have been granted planning permission for are located in a Conservation Area.

London Borough of Richmond Conservation Areas

When applying for planning permission in a Conservation Area, you must also apply for Conservation Area Consent. This is distinct from planning permission, so it is possible to have one approval but not the other. Failing to get both could result in an enforcement notice to undo your works.

Confusingly, there is no general rule for what is and is not permitted in a Conservation Area, as each comes with its own restrictions depending on the area’s characteristics and architectural vernacular.

Renovation in the Castelnau Conservation AreaHomes in the Castelnau Conservation Area have a distinct Victorian vernacular which Conservation Officers expect to be preserved.

What is consistent is that Conservation Area policies are primarily concerned with the street-facing exterior of the building. Unlike listed buildings, works to the interior or rear of the building only need apply to the borough’s general planning policies.

However, certain Conservation Areas, known informally as Special Conservation Areas, are far more strict. These include the Conservation Areas surrounding Richmond Park, Hampton Court Park, Bushy Park, the River Thames and any of the borough’s other rivers.

New build home on the banks of the river Thames in the borough of RichmondStrawberry Vale is rare example of contemporary architecture in Richmond, and its location on the banks of the Thames made it a tough planning challenge.

In terms of planning difficulty, Special Conservation Areas in Richmond are roughly equivalent to building in the Green Belt. Conservation officers in these areas may enforce additional requirements concerning the appearance of your home, its increase in volume, its ecological impact and, if bordering a waterway, flood risk.

For example, Strawberry Vale, pictured above, had to have a slim, linear design to minimise its visual bulk from the Thames and the entire structure had to be built 1 metre above ground in case of flooding.


What else should I know about getting planning permission in Richmond?


A non-designated home outside of a conservation area provides the highest chances of being awarded planning approval, but there are a few more planning considerations you should be aware of.

Richmond’s Village Plans

First are Richmond’s 14 “villages”. Each of these villages (which roughly align with its wards) has their own Village Plan, which applies on top of the Richmond’s Local Plan, which is the borough’s interpretation of England’s National Planning Policy Framework.

This means that it is not enough to be aware of national planning policies or even Richmond’s, you also need to take into account the planning policies of the village that you live in.

These policies are constantly changing and information on the details of Village Plans is not easily found online, if at all.

This results in people submitting planning applications which seem to tick all the boxes of planning law, only to be told that permission has been refused because officers are working to a new policy which hasn’t yet been released to the public.

The only way to be safe in your application is to seek pre-planning advice and work with an architect who has close contact and a trusted reputation with planning officers.

Contemporary restoration of Building of Townscape Merit in Richmond upon ThamesHouses in the Richmond Hill “village” have strict protections for the street-facing side, but at the rear you can be more creative, as seen in this highly contemporary lower ground extension.


Trees, Newts and Bats

Finally, there are a number of site-specific considerations which may affect your chances of receiving planning permission.

Planning officers typically favour the protection of any existing trees on site, and will expect removal to be compensated for by new planting.

Certain trees, however, are protected by a Tree Preservation Order. These are trees which are designated as having townscape value, and you must receive special permission to have them removed, which is only usually possible if you can prove (with an arboricultural assessment) that the tree is sick or dying.

There may also be biodiversity and ecological concerns on your site. If planning officers consider your garden or grounds to have high ecological value, you may be required to preserve or even improve its benefits for wildlife. This is particularly common in sites bordering rivers or parks.

If protected species such as newts or bats are found on your site, you must include provisions for replacement habitats or safe relocation – a surprisingly complex process requiring assistance from specialist ecologists.

To harm a protected species or their habitat is a criminal offence, so the consequences for not taking this part of the process seriously is much worse than simply not receiving planning permission.


How can DGA help me get planning permission in Richmond?


This article is an introduction to the unique planning difficulties faced by our clients in Richmond, but it is not an exhaustive list.

Policies are constantly being amended and added to, and Richmond’s Local Plan alone is over 200 pages long, before even taking into account policies unique to Conservation Areas and Villages.

With over 25 years of experience working in Richmond and over 75 successful planning applications, DGA is a respected name in the borough. We enjoy close communication with planning and conservation officers and unparalleled knowledge of the inner workings of Richmond’s planning policy.

These 75 applications include listed buildings, Buildings of Townscape Merit and numerous Conservation Area homes, some of which we’ve taken all the way to national appeals with the Planning Inspectorate to achieve a planning victory for our clients.

If you are considering a home building project in Richmond, we’re your best chance at receiving planning permission. To get started book a zoom consultation with John by clicking here