How does planning permission work?

You can only oppose a plan after permission has been given

18 December 2009

WHETHER it is the construction of a pig farm or the addition of a roof light, new development is rarely without controversy.

However your first task in trying to defend yourself against a potential eyesore is actually getting to find out about it.

Unlike in the UK, there is no requirement to place a notice on the site that a planning application has been lodged and neighbours are not consulted as part of the decision-making process.

The only public information that is obligatory is a formal notice of the planning application outside of the mairie, which must be displayed within 15 days of the application being submitted.

Although you may make objections during the progress of the application, the council is under no obligation to take them into account, as the formal process of objection does not take place until the planning application has been considered.

Public inquiries are held for major large developments or those posing a potential risk to the environment or public health, but these are not always widely advertised and are very technical.

If planning consent is granted, the recipient is required to put up a notice on the site, visible from a public road, which gives details of the plans.

It must remain for a minimum of two months, during which time those living nearby are entitled to lodge a formal objection by writing to the mairie.

This can be made on any grounds and the mairie may, if you are lucky, decide to overturn the consent.

Clearly if your objections can be resolved on an amicable basis through the mairie then this is a by far the best approach.

Alternatively, you can immediately take legal action against the local authority at the tribunal de grande instance (for example, if you know the scheme has strong council support).

Once the two-month period has expired, you can only contest it through the courts and only if the actual development does not comply with the planning consent that was granted and you have been adversely affected by it, or consent was granted illegally.

To show consent was illegal requires you to demonstrate a breach of proper procedure or that the development does not comply with local or national planning laws.

However, courts rarely overturn an application for lack of due procedure, unless there was a fundamental error. You cannot object merely because the new development ruins your view or reduces the value of the property.

“You should make sure you have clear planning grounds on which to object,” said our property columnist David Yeates.

Whether at the two-month objection stage or especially when going through the courts, this is likely to require the assistance of an architect or legal advisor skilled in planning law (droit de l'urbanisme), he added.

One option for residents opposed to a building project is to team up to object.

However an association is not entitled to bring legal action against planning approval unless its statuts (articles of association) were supplied to the local prefecture before the planning application was received by the mairie.

`If you get word of plans you should set up an association as quickly as possible. After permission is granted an option is to set one up and for one member to take legal action in their own name.

This rule is said to be to prevent new groups being formed who might make unjustified objections to new developments.

If you go to court it may take up to two years before the case is heard.

The fact you may have lodged an objection with the courts does not prevent the beneficiary of the consent proceeding with construction, so in urgent cases you may need to seek a special hearing in order to get an injunction to bring a halt to building until the outcome of the case.

Two outcomes are possible. Either the court will validate the consent or it will be annulled, which will result in damages and/or a demolition order.

It is possible for there to be a partial annulment where there are distinct parts of the development that can be considered separately.

In the event the court rules against you, you have a right to take the matter to a court of appeal within two months, as does the defendant.

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