If you’re buying a property in France that you want to make changes to, you’ll need to know how to apply for planning permission. Arthur Cutler explains the most common types, and the differences between them
Arthur Cutler offers a guide to the common types of planning application in France
CERTIFICAT D’URBANISME (CU)
There are two types of CU application – CU(a) and CU(b). The former is mostly used to obtain general information about a plot of land and any relevant taxes applicable to it. By contrast, the latter is often referred to as ‘operational’, similar in some ways to outline planning permission in the UK, and is used to ascertain whether, in principle, a particular project can be carried out or not – for example, if a parcel of land can be used to construct a dwelling, or whether a barn conversion into a dwelling is possible. Detailed plans are not required at this stage, but a brief description of the project, site plan and photographs will be needed (especially if there are any existing buildings – whether or not the project involves these).
A CU is particularly useful where no local planning regulations exist, i.e. where national planning rules apply (which essentially divide areas into ‘constructible’ or ‘non-constructible’ zones, based on proximity to the built-up area of the commune).
Anyone can apply for a CU, whether they own the land or not. A CU (a) usually takes one month before receiving the result, and a CU (b) usually takes two months, but it can be longer. If granted, a CU is valid for a period of 18 months and can be renewed at the end of each period of validity provided regulations governing the land do not change in the meantime. If renewal is not requested in time, a new application will be required. Although it would be unusual for land to be reclassified, it can happen. A detailed planning application can be submitted at any time during the course of validity of the CU and if granted, essentially takes the place of the CU in terms of validity and timescale.
DÉCLARATION PRÉALABLE (DP)
This is most often used to deal with minor modifications to an existing property, such as the addition of VELUX windows, changing wooden windows and doors to uPVC, converting a garage to living space (or vice versa), and the construction of a garden shed, polytunnel or greenhouse – all of which require permission.
It is worth mentioning that in France, any change to the external appearance of a property requires a permit of one kind or another, no matter how small or insignificant the change may seem.
As a general rule, minor works that create less than 20m² of surface de plancher (living space), or emprise au sol (footprint) can be dealt with by a DP application. This is sometimes extended to 40m² where a property is within a developed area of the town.
A DP application is handled in a slightly different manner to most others in that there is no necessity for the planners to issue a response. Automatic approval and a right to proceed exists, if the authorities do not refuse within a month of receiving the dossier. However, if additional information
or documentation is requested within the month, then the clock is reset from when the missing details are received. The authorities also have the right to extend the normal one-month response period under certain circumstances – e.g. where the property is close to a church or other historic monuments, situated in a national park, or otherwise in a ‘protected’ zone.
PERMIS DE CONSTRUIRE (PC)
For most types of project not covered by a CU or DP, a permis de construire will be needed – for example, most new builds, extensions and conversions above the floor area or footprint limits noted above. There are different types of PC application (dependent on the project detail), and the timescale for receiving the result can vary anything between two and six months. Once more, there are set time limits in which the authorities are obliged to respond, and a failure to do so will result in an automatic right to proceed. However, there is still the possibility for the authorities to overturn the automatic right within a three-month period of its start date if the application is adjudged to have been illegal at the outset.
If you’re planning to build or alter a property in France, you need to understand the regulations