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Approved | Nigel Walter

5.4 Permissions – New Buildings

There are various levels of permission that the typical church building project will need to satisfy in order for the project to proceed. This chapter deals with permissions for new buildings (and conversions from other uses) – if you are contemplating change to an existing church building, see Section 5.5.

Planning Permission

The biggest hurdle for a new building is getting planning permission. Our planning system works on the basis of different classes of planning use; the point of this is to control which activities go where, for example to prevent a noisy manufacturing plant being set up in a quiet residential area. There are many use classes, but the main ones you need to be aware of are residential (C2, C3, C4 etc), ‘Storage or distribution’ (ie warehouses – B8), and most importantly ‘Non-residential institutions’ (D1). D1 is the use class into which churches fall, but it is a sort of rag bag category for all the things the system doesn’t know what else to do with. For example, the new Miracle House church on the Wick Estate in Wickford is being built on an undeveloped plot that previously had permission for a Dentist’s Surgery, which also falls within use class D1. For more on planning use classes refer to the Planning Portal.

So if you are looking for a site to build a new building, or looking to convert an existing building, then you need to understand that the planning use currently attributed to the site may well determine the success of any application. If, for example, you want to take an existing warehouse building and convert it into a church, you will need to make the case for that change; depending on the location, and the development priorities and pressures on the Local Authority, the planners may oppose your proposed change of use if their priority is to encourage the provision of commercial employment.

Parking can be another significant planning issue. Some Local Authorities expect high parking ratios, often set down on a ratio of parking spaces to area. Understanding how much of a constraint this will be in practice is very helpful before you start looking at the potential of different possible locations for conversion or new build. There are of course other means of getting people to your site; how well-connected you are to public transport makes a big difference, as does your ability to operate a minibus shuttle to bring people to the church; you may need to prepare a ‘green travel plan’ to justify reduced levels of parking.

Churches rarely fall neatly into any one category, as many other building types do. Healthy churches engage in a wide variety of activities. Not only do we know that your church will be good news for your locality, Local Authorities are also waking up to this – this is the usefulness of all the talk about the ‘Big Society’ (see section 2.2). That said, you cannot guarantee that everyone you meet in the planning process will understand this – there is a job of persuasion to be done, and the key therefore is to think through how you’re going to communicate that message.

Building Regulations

Like any other buildings, churches need to satisfy the Building Regulations, which deal with thermal performance, structural design, means of escape, disability access and a whole raft of other technical things. This involves an application to either the Local Authority or an Approved Inspector, which is a private alternative. A new church building will need a BREEAM assessment of its energy performance, and this should be built into the design process rather than being dealt with as an afterthought once the major design decisions have been made.

Other Permissions

If you are planning any form of serious catering, then you will need to keep the Local Authority Environmental Health Officer (EHO) happy. Churches often fall somewhere between a fully fledged commercial catering operation, and the sort of catering we do at home. It is worth talking early to the EHO to prevent expensive surprises later in the process. In particular, mechanical ventilation of kitchens can be huge and cumbersome to incorporate, particularly if you plan cooking on gas.

Depending on how you intend to use your buildings, you may also need a public entertainments licence – again worth checking with your Local Authority as to whether this is needed and when it needs to be applied for.

Lastly, if you happen to be in a post-war New Town such as Milton Keynes, or an earlier generation of planned settlement such as Welwyn Garden City, there may be additional controls on development, and therefore permissions to be sought. Again, your Local Authority can advise.