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

Living France - - Contents - Arthur Cut­ler is owner of French Plans french­

Arthur Cut­ler of­fers a guide to the com­mon types of plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion in France


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.


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.


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

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