Can I renovate my rural French ruin?
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How easy is it to get planning permission to renovate a ruined house or barn in the heart of the French countryside? France-based planning expert Arthur Cutler has the answers
There are many changes currently taking place in France with regard to construction in rural areas, with a general move towards limiting the spread of urbanism into agricultural zones.
Much depends on the precise planning zone for your property, and any conditions relating to planning. Each commune has the right (but not the obligation) to create its own local planning framework called a PLU (plan local d'urbanisme). If such a document exists for your commune, then it can be consulted to see what is possible with regard to your project.
Where there is no such local plan, the commune will rely on RNU (réglement national d'urbanisme), which essentially divides the commune up into constructible and non-constructible zones, based on proximity to the existing urban area - ie, the town or village centre and its environs. If your property is outside of the built-up area, then it will automatically be in the non-constructible zone.
However, even if the property is in the non-constructible zone, it may be possible to renovate it - it all depends on what remains of the original building. If it is truly a ruin with no roof or solid walls, then it is unlikely you will obtain permission to renovate, but if the majority of the walls and some of the roof remain, then it is more likely that permission would be granted. A complete demolition and rebuild would almost certainly be refused, because that would be seen as a new construction.
If a PLU exists, then it may be available online on the commune's website, but not all communes have a website, and there is no obligation to include the PLU. If not, then a visit to the mairie may be the best way to review the document. Or you could request a copy of the relevant zoning regulations by email.
Another option is to check the following site, where PLUs are gradually being added for public consultation: geoportail-urbanisme.gouv.fr/map A word of warning though - unless you are fairly fluent in French and versed in planning matters, understanding the contents of a PLU can be difficult and many include ambiguous and sometimes contradictory clauses. Discussing with a planning consultant is recommended.
If there is any doubt about the position you can submit an outline application ("CU" - certificat d'urbanisme), which will give a ruling on whether the renovation is possible.
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Arthur Cutler is the director of French Plans, a fully bilingual architectural and planning service operating nationwide in France