Understanding Planning Permission – When Do You Need It?

Planning permissions isn’t always an easy topic to explain and as a result, many people don’t realise that they need it for certain projects. We explain some of the basic terms of planning permission, when you need to gain it and how it applies to balustrades.

architects plans to submit for planning permission

This is a guide only. Planning permission and regulations change over time so it is your responsibility to check the latest guidelines and regulations before you start your project. The information contained is from a range of sources and correct as at September 2018.

Planning permission. If there are two words that are greeted with eye-rolling and a smile that covers the consternation within, it is ‘planning permission’. A lengthy, often expensive process, the results are not guaranteed. What you think is a perfectly acceptable project is defined as being ‘out of character’ or ‘detrimental to the local environment’, or whatever reason for refusal is given.

Planning permission, building regulations and all the other guidelines and rules are in place to protect our built and natural environment. And contrary to what you may think or have heard, a lot more planning permission applications are successful than those that are refused.

It isn’t a ‘one chance saloon’. By altering plans just a little, you may be able to secure planning permission for your project.

When it comes to staircases, balconies and balustrades, you may wonder what the planning permission and building regulations stipulate. And we have collated the answers into this handy and simple guide.

But we’ll say it again – you must check with the planning department of your local authority before work starts if you need planning permission for your project.



Are planning permission and building regulations the same thing?

They are two terms that are often used interchangeably and the problem is, we can think that they describe the same thing;

Building regulations are defined as a statutory instrument that seeks to ensure policies set out in relevant legislation are carried out. In other words, buildings and structures are built to a standard that ensures they are safe for use in their intended capacity.

Planning permission is the approval from a local authority to make alternations to a building. This can be the way it is used and in the case of some premises, the way in which the building is used.


Do permissions and building regulations vary across the country?

The process of how you apply for planning permission when you need permission to make alternations and the standard of building and structures vary between England & Wales, Scotland and in some cases, Northern Ireland too.

Individual local authorities may also take a difference stance over some designs. There is no difference in how regulations and permissions should be applied between one county and the next.

You apply for planning permission from the local authority within which the building is located.


When is planning permission needed?

Using a broad definition from the GOV.UK website, planning permission in England and Wales is needed;

  • Something new is being built
  • When there is to be a major change to the building, such as an extension
  • When there is a change in the use of the building, for example changing a shop into a domestic dwelling


Do I need planning permission for balustrades?

You may not need planning permission as such but you will need to check if your overall project is subject to planning permission.

You can do this by contacting the local planning department of your local authority. There is a lot more information on Planning Portal, a website that can be used by property owners, builders and designers completing projects in England and Wales.


How is planning permission applied for?

You can apply online at the Planning Portal. You will need to give information about your project, where it is and so on,. You’ll also need to submit plans and designs in some cases too.


What about regulations specific to balustrades?

Building regulations are the set of rules that govern the acceptable standards for design and construction. It is these regulations that relate to balustrades and when they are used, how high they need to be and the materials that are acceptable for use.

For example, you may need planning permission for replacing a Juliette balcony onto the exterior of a listed property but it is the specific sub-set of building regulations that govern the balustrade on the balcony.

Part K: Protection from falling, collision and impact is the set of regulations that cover the technical specification of balustrade both in and outside of the domestic dwelling, as well as commercial settings. You can download a PDF version of the latest set of technical specifications which were released in 2013.

The British Standard ‘Barriers in and about building code of practice’ came into effect in 2011 and you can find more information about this set of rules but in this set of standards that refer specifically to balustrades it gives recommendations,

“… and guidance for the design and construction of temporary and permanent barriers to be provided in and about buildings and places of assembly, such as barrier being positioned and designed to protect persons from various hazards and to restrict and control the movement of persons or vehicles.”


The British Standards applies to

  • Barriers that indicate routes
  • Walls, glazing and elements within a building or structure that act as protective barriers
  • Areas that are spectating areas


It doesn’t apply to

  • Barriers used in building operations and engineering construction
  • Safety gates commonly used as ‘baby or child-proof’ gates within the home
  • Gates and balustrades that act as an access to machinery


What are the design criteria of balustrades?

When it comes to balustrades, they are effective because they have height and rigidity. So when someone leans or falls against them, they prevent them from falling. So what design criteria mush balustrades meet?



In terms of height, the minimum measurements from the floor on which they stand are clear;

In a domestic dwelling

Position Height in mm
Barrier in front of a window 800
Stairs, landings edges of internal floors and ramps 900
External balconies – including roof edges and Juliette balconies 1100


Other uses such as commercial buildings of multi-occupancy domestic dwellings include

Position Height in mm
Barrier in front of a window 800
Stars 900
Balconies and stands with fixed seating within 530mm of the balustrades 800
Balconies and stands with fixed seating within 530mm of the balustrade but where the barrier’s height and width is greater than 975mm 750
All other positions, including external locations 110



As well as height, balustrades including glass and a stainless steel balustrade must be able to withstand the pressure of people falling or pushing against it.

A stress test will declare the ultimate limit state (ULS) of a material and how well it copes under certain amounts of pressure. Even though a balustrade can be built from any material, unless it passes the stress test, it won’t be suitable. Find more information on dead and imposed loads here.



There are also considerations when using glass in balustrades, something that we are seeing more of in the work we do for clients.

For example, clipped infill panels must have the clips placed at a maximum spacing of 600mm. The clips also need to be a minimum of 50mm in length.

Bolt connections are acceptable providing that the glass used is tempered.

No matter how the infill glass panel is fitted, it needs to fit within the supporting structure. Handrails need to be used either above the glass or to the side.



When it comes to balustrades, there are a few other things you need to note;

  • When there is deemed to be a risk of falling and there is a part of the barrier or balustrade that opens your balustrade needs to have a restricted width of 100mm or have some kind of mechanism that prevents the accidental opening when someone leans against it.
  • The load of a glass balustrade should be distributed through the structure and not necessarily on the glass infill. This is important if you are considering a frameless glass balustrade system. The cantilevering effect on this kind of balustrade must be correct so that the load is distributed across it and not concentrated in one place.
  • Continuing design factors relating to frameless glass balustrades, it should be bolted along the bottom edge.


More information and your questions answered!

We know that it can seem confusing. But the regulations and permissions relating to balustrades are in place to make sure that every home and commercial premises have the right height and design of balustrade.

For more information, get in touch. For some enquiries, you may be best directing them to your local planning department. This includes queries about the specifics of planning permission and your project.

We can help you design a balustrade system, stainless steel and/or glass, that meets the current building regulations as they apply to your property.



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