Planning permission: the application and approval requirements
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In the third instalment of Arthur Cutler’s series on planning permission, we look at where to submit your application, what to include in your dossier and the approval requirements
In this instalment we’ll be looking at practical matters – how and where to submit your planning application, what is required for the dossier, and post approval requirements.
French planning regulations state, in principle, that all planning applications have to be prepared and submitted by a qualified architect, registered with the Ordre des Architectes in France.
There are exceptions to this, and for our purposes we will look at those which affect projects involving private residences. In order to do so, we need to consider a number of definitions and calculations within the French planning system which collectively define whether an architect is required or not.
Surface de plancher
The surface de plancher (habitable floor area) is defined as the total area of each floor of a property that is “closed and covered”, after deduction of the following: any areas which have less than 1.8m head height; floor areas where staircases are sited; any areas exclusively used for parking cars.
The most important things to remember are whether any particular area is closed and covered (i.e. has walls and a roof) and if the total floor area exceeds 170m² after any changes are made. For example, if the existing space is 150m², and the project is to extend the property by 30m², an architect will be required.
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Emprise au sol
In simple terms, the emprise au sol (footprint) is defined as the area of land covered by the property. However, you need to consider certain elements which may affect the total: most notably, terraces and balconies. If these have any form of roof covering and have a supporting structure, then they count towards the total footprint. If they do not have both of these structural elements, then they will normally be excluded from the calculations. If the emprise au sol exceeds 170m², an architect will be required.
There may be cases where the surface de plancher is less than 170m² but the emprise au sol is greater. In this case, it will always be the latter that defines whether an architect is required. The reverse is also true – if the emprise au sol is less than 170m² but the surface de plancher is greater, then it will be the latter which takes precedence.
Where to send an application
The planning dossier must be submitted to your local mairie, who will issue a numbered receipt. This number will be used in any communications about the application.
For the most part, the mairie is unable to decide whether the application is granted or not; the mairie will pass the file to the regional planning office, who will process the dossier and handle any queries that may arise.
In some cases, other agencies need to be consulted before a decision can be made – most notably if the property is in a protected zone. Properties situated close to a church or other historic monument, or within a national park will require consent from the Architecte des Bâtiments de France.
The authorities have the right to impose a longer than usual timescale to issue the result of the application where this occurs, and there are often specific requirements laid down before approval is granted.
Depending on the type of application, the planning process can take between one and six months, but typically notifications are issued within two to three months. Please refer to last month’s article for more information on the individual application types and timescales.
With one notable exception, the authorities will always issue a notice of approval or refusal once the process is complete. However, you may not receive anything in writing where the application is for a déclaration préalable type of permit, and there is no objection from the planning department or mairie.
This is because the basic assumption is that you will succeed, and you may only hear back if the application is refused. Should this happen, it is important to ask the mairie to give you an arrêté de non-opposition letter so that in the event that you sell the property, you can prove permission was granted.
Costs and taxes
There is no planning application fee in France. However, if an application is approved, a one-off tax (taxe d’aménagement) is payable, usually between 12 and 18 months after the permit is originally granted. In cases where the tax due is substantial, it can usually be paid in two instalments.
Typically, the tax imposed is between €10 and €15 per square metre of floor space created, but there can be significant local variations. The mairie can advise the cost in advance of an application being made.
Most French architects will charge a percentage of the estimated cost of the proposed works, while others work on a fixed fee based on the time involved in preparing the planning dossier, with attendant plans, drawings etc.
For smaller projects, the cost could be as little as a few hundred euros, rising to several thousands for larger domestic projects. Always ask for an indication of costs and a written estimate (devis) before giving any instructions to proceed.
It is important to establish the costs and basis on which charges will be levied, including any ongoing costs if additional work is required during the application process. Some professionals charge an initial feasibility fee, while others offer this as a free service.
After approval has been granted, it is important to follow the procedure laid down in the notification. Prior to commencing any works, a planning notice should be displayed where it is visible from the nearest public highway. These can be obtained from any DIY shop or builder’s merchant.
The next step is to submit a form to the mairie giving a date when works will begin (déclaration d’ouverture); when the project is finished, you should submit a further form declaring works have been completed (déclaration d’achèvement).
At some point, the authorities will issue various letters and forms for completion – these relate to the current status of works and additional tax forms, upon which future property taxes will be based.
Most permits are valid for two years, but can be extended by simple written request under certain circumstances. Provided work has commenced (which needs to be meaningful), and a déclaration has been made to that effect, the project can proceed more or less over any period of time unless it is interrupted for longer than a period of 12 months.
Arthur Cutler is director of French Plans, which offers a planning and design service throughout France
Tel: 0033 (0)2 97 39 38 72