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Guide to Planning in France

All French communes have the option to adopt either ‘national’ planning regulations or to create a local plan, and before continuing with your project it is important to know which rules apply to your property or ‘parcelle cadastrale’. French Plans offers a free, no-obligation verification service to check the regulations in place at the time of purchase, or when undertaking a project which requires planning consent. This ensures you are fully aware of any restrictions or conditions which may be relevant to your property or project at the earliest opportunity.

Extension in Provence

NATIONAL REGULATIONS:

These apply anywhere not covered by a local regulatory framework. National regulations are known as “RNU” in France (Règlement National d’Urbanisme), and are used to control what can be achieved in terms of building works or modifications to properties in any given area or commune. Planning decisions resulting from applications where RNU applies will be based on issues such as existing land use in the immediate vicinity, size of development, noise, public health & safety, architectural style, etc.

 

LOCAL REGULATIONS:

There are several different models in use for local regulations, with each version existing to control planning matters within the commune. The more usual ones are the “PLU” (Plan local d’urbanisme) and the “CC” (Carte Communale). The PLU is the most detailed version and will place every plot of land in a commune into one or more planning zones, ranging from agricultural to industrial, and from parkland to residential and commercial. Each zone will have its own set of rules defining what construction and development can or cannot be undertaken.

Alpine conversion

WHEN PLANNING PERMISSION IS REQUIRED

Planning consent in France is required for (but not limited to!):

CHANGE OF USE:

 

Converting any kind of building from one use to another – for example, the conversion of a building not currently considered “habitable” such as a commercial premises or barn, or other agricultural building, will require a permit.

 

Changing the use of land also requires planning consent – for example, developing a camping business on land currently used for agriculture, or creating a residential development

EXTERNAL CHANGES:

 

Essentially, any change to the external appearance of a property requires a permit of one kind or another, even for minor changes like external paint colours. However, repairing or replacing an existing element on a “like for like” basis (eg replacing old roof slates with new ones of the same size and colour) is unlikely to require any official paperwork, though there are some cases where specific materials have to be maintained for heritage or architectural reasons. Take care on this point, because replacing existing wooden windows with PVC, even if the style and appearance is the same, may not be considered a like for like replacement, especially when the property is in a “protected” planning zone.

EXTENSIONS:

 

In theory at least, extensions of less than 5m2 require no permit. However, it goes without saying that any extension, irrespective of size, results in a change to the external appearance, meaning a permit almost certainly will be required…

 

Extensions of more than 5 m2 will always require a permit, and in many communes, there is no automatic right to extend, so don’t assume it is possible without checking. There is no permitted development in France. Some communes may limit the size of an extension to a percentage of the existing living area/footprint, or to a maximum size expressed in square metres (30 m2 for example), and this most often applies in rural areas or outside of the immediate urban area of the town or village.

 

Raising the roof of a building to create additional head-height in an upper floor - a loft or attic or example, is considered an extension as it increases the habitable space within the building, so consent is required.

NEW BUILD:

 

Planning applications for any dwelling or building over 150 m2 (either footprint or habitable space whichever is the greater), must be prepared and  submitted by a French-registered architect. Where you have a set of blueprints already, we can base the planning dossier on these, but we will still need to create a new set which conform to French planning requirements (many people choose blueprints from online sites or timber-frame manufacturers which are unsuitable)

 

Whilst planning applications for dwellings smaller than 150 m2 can theoretically be submitted by an individual (with the exception of commercial properties), if the dossier is not in accordance with norms, or if anything is missing, the application will be rejected, so the use of an expert planning consultant/architect is always to be recommended.  There are many peculiarities which need to be considered, and unless you are familiar with these, your application is likely to fail.

SWIMMING POOLS

 

Pools can be either in-ground or above ground. There is little or no distinction under French planning law between the two and planning consent is required for either unless your pool is above ground and is being installed for no more than 3 months of the year, i.e. it is temporary, or, it does not exceed 10 m2 in surface area.

 

If the pool is below 100m2 then a works declaration will be required, but if it is above 100m2 then it will require a full planning permit.

 

If there are other structures being built alongside the pool such as an arbor, a pool house or an outdoor kitchen, these will need to be included in the planning submission.

 

As is the case in many situations regarding planning permission in France, the location of your property could be a factor - if your property is in a heritage or conservation area for example.

 

It is also important when considering the construction of a swimming pool that France has just suffered one of the driest summers on record (2022).  We have experience of applications which have been granted, but have a condition attached that the pool could not be filled from the municipal water supply.  Nearly all areas of France imposed some kind of water usage restrictions in the summer of 2022 and one of the  first of these was the filling of swimming pools.

 

It is therefore important before embarking on a swimming pool project to check if any restrictions on water usage are in place.

ANNEXES: GARAGES, CARPORTS, GARDEN SHEDS, POLYTUNNELS, PERGOLAS, ETC:

 

Any construction of this type requires consent of one form or another – even open pergolas where they exceed 5 m2 footprint.

 

Some communes in France forbid the creation/construction of annexes, or limit them to one per property.

Perspective
buildings open to the public

BUILDINGS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

As a rule, any building that is open to the public needs to conform to specific regulations relating to disabled access and fire prevention. In France, such buildings are referred to as “Etablissements Recevant du Public” (usually abbreviated to “ERP”). The list of buildings affected includes shops, shopping centres, theatres, cinemas, hospitals, schools & universities, hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. Interestingly, temporary structures like marquees are also included in the regulations. In essence, any area that is open to a member of the public must be open to all, including for example, car parking areas, lifts, etc. The underlying aim is that everyone is treated equally, and that no one feels excluded from public buildings, or indeed from areas of society that are open to others. Any planning application involving an ERP is subject to special consideration. Individual projects will be dealt with by the relevant local authority, notably the departmental commission for safety and accessibility.  In the first instance, all applications must be delivered to the Mairie

of the commune in which the property is located, which will then be passed to the various commissions for consideration and approval or modi cation. Applications of this type are complex, and not for the faint-hearted, so consideration should be given to obtaining expert advice such as ours.

AGRICULTURAL BUILDINGS FOR REGISTERED FARMERS

Whilst it is generally not too difficult for a farmer to obtain planning consent for an agricultural building through a frequently sympathetic local council, there is less certainty when it comes to consideration of a new dwelling alongside any such building. Often the application will be considered on the issue of ‘necessity’, which can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. Thus, a council will be required to consider whether a permanent presence on-site is necessary, such as might be the case in the protection of livestock. In addition, where applicable, there would normally be a requirement for any new dwelling to be sited in proximity to any existing dwelling.

 

There are similar constraints relating to the conversion of former agricultural buildings for residential use, which will often be considered based on the condition of the existing building, the services available, and changes that may be envisaged to the volume of the building. Applications by anyone not registered as an “agriculteur” (farmer) for new dwellings in agricultural zones are highly unlikely to succeed. There is a general move in

France towards minimising all non-essential development of rural areas.

LISTED BUILDINGS IN CONSERVATION AREAS

If the property is listed or is situated within a protected area (site classé) then particular procedures apply, requiring the approval of the Architecte des Bâtiments de France. These procedures are too detailed and varied to distil down for this document, other than to say that we regularly handle these types of applications and are confident in dealing with them.

Barn Conversion

STATUTORY REQUIRMENTS FOR PLANNING APPLICATIONS

Alongside the planning legislation, there are also other legislative requirements that need to be considered when preparing to submit a planning application. These include (but are not limited to):

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS

Following the introduction of thermal insulation regulations in 2012 and the subsequent updates in 2023, all planning applications involving the creation of any additional living space (including the conversion of existing buildings) require a thermal attestation, and for projects where you are increasing the living space by more than 50m2 a report will also be required. The attestation confirms the building will be constructed conforming to current environmental regulations and the report contains detailed information about the materials permitted for the build. Upon completion of the project, a final inspection and certification may be required before the authorities sign off the project, and without it, the completion notice (DAACT) will not be validated.

DRAINAGE

If the building or plot is not in an area where mains drains are available, then a private septic tank system will be required. The usual process is to arrange a specialist survey and report taking account of accommodation levels. The report is then sent to the local environment agency for approval. The approval certificate then forms part of the planning application.  Equally, if the property being modi ed has an existing septic tank system, that system must be capable of dealing with the increased accommodation levels. In these circumstances a specialist survey and certficate of conformity will be required and that will form part of the planning dossier that is submitted for approval. If it is established that the current system is not suitable for the plans being proposed, a new system will be required.

GROUND CONDITIONS

It is also possible that you will require a geotechnical survey to assess ground conditions prior to submission of the planning application (although this can sometimes also be requested after dossier has been submitted).

New build site

TYPES OF PERMISSION

 

OUTLINE PERMISSION:

In France, outline permission is called a “CU” (certificat d’urbanisme). Anyone can apply whether they own the property or land in question or not. This type of application allows you to outline the project in reasonable detail, but requires only limited plans/drawings/ documents – typically a site plan, service connections, existing and proposed building positions and uses, project description, etc. If approved, the CU is valid for 18 months,

during which time a detailed application can be submitted. A CU does not allow any work to be undertaken – it is just outline approval. It is important to note that a CU approval doesn’t always indicate every aspect required for a detailed approval is possible. For example, it may conclude that in principle the land can be used for the purpose in question, but the detailed application may fail if, for example, the impact study reveals reasons why it isn’t possible, so please proceed with caution and understand that a CU is only a general outline approval, and you may need to make your purchase subject to full permission in some cases.

DECLARATION OF WORKS - DÉCLARATION PRÉALABLE (DP):

This type of application is most often used to deal with more minor modifications to an existing property such as the addition of velux windows, changing wooden windows and doors to PVC, converting a garage to living space (or vice versa), and the construction of a garden shed, polytunnel or greenhouse, all of which require permission. 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 they receive the missing details. The authorities also have the right to extend the normal one-month period under certain circumstances – for example where the property is close to a church or other historic monument, situated in a national park, or otherwise in a “protected” zone.

WORKS PERMIT - “PERMIS DE CONSTRUIRE’ (PC)

For most types of projects 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 previously. There are different types of PC application depending on the project, and the timescale can vary between 2 months and 6

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 to overturn the automatic right within a 3-month period of its start date if the application is adjudged to have been illegal at the outset.

DEMOLITION PERMIT - ”PERMIS DE DÉMOLIR’ (PD)

There is no automatic right to demolish all or part of an existing building, even when it is in very poor condition. Sometimes the local Mairie can give authorisation without an official application, but always get it in writing! Other times a full dossier will need to be submitted with appropriate plans and photographs.

DEVELOPMENT PERMIT - “PERMIS D’AMÉNAGER’ (PA)

This is generally used for larger developments such as housing estates (“lotissements”), industrial or leisure facilities (theme parks, public gardens... ), solar and wind farms, etc. It is also used for campsites and public  fishing lakes.  Due to the huge range of possible applications we will do no more than mention it here for reference purposes as readers may occasionally come across it or need to use it for a specific project.

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New build France

POST APPROVAL

PLANNING NOTICE

Upon receipt of your planning permission, you must put up a planning notice at the earliest opportunity which must be displayed in a place that can be seen from the public highway. It must be in place for a minimum of two months, AND for the full duration of works if that lasts longer than 2 months. This is a legal requirement and without it, your permit may be invalidated, and you could face a fine of 1500 €.

VALIDITY PERIOD

Generally current planning permits have a validity period of 3 years (except a CU which is 18 months). This can usually be extended for a further year provided an application is submitted at least two months before the expiry of the permit.

Once work has commenced, the validity of the permit is only assured provided work is continuous (ie there is no break in work of more than 12 months duration).

WHEN THE WORK STARTS

For a permis de construire a “déclaration d’ouverture de chantier” (DOC) must be completed and sent to the mairie in triplicate at the start of works. A copy will be sent back to you dated and stamped by the mairie.

WHEN YOUR PROJECT IS FINISHED

For both a declaration préalable and a permis de construire a “Déclaration attestant l’achévement et la conformité des travaux” (DAACT) must be filled in within 90 days of completion of works. This again needs to be sent, in triplicate, to the mairie and a copy will be returned, stamped and dated.

TAXES

Once planning permission has been granted the local tax office will automatically issue an “H1” tax form. This has to be completed and returned within 90 days of completion of works.

Where the taxable surface area (surface taxable) of the property is increased, this automatically leads to the following two tax changes:

A one-off tax (taxe d'aménagement) based on the surface area created (any pre-existing surface area is not subject to this tax);

An increase in your local property taxes (taxe foncière). Depending on your personal circumstances, the taxe d'habitation may also increase.

For reference, the taxable area is deemed as the total surface area of the building (surface de plancher), less those areas where the head height is below 1.80m, and those areas corresponding to the surface lost for a staircase or lift.

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The French Plans Service

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