Can planning permission be rejected in France due to water shortages?

Some communes have tried to ban new building work to protect supplies

Many communes in the south of France were hit by droughts in 2022 and 2023
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A court in the south of France has made a landmark ruling on the eligibility of local authorities to pause the granting of planning permission due to water shortages.

The Pays de Fayence authority, which covers 9 communes in the Var department, placed a blanket ban on all new building permits (permis de construire) for five years in February 2023.

The decision was taken with the view of protecting dwindling water resources in the area, as new properties would have to be connected to the mains supply.

In 2022, before the ban was put in place, a number of communes covered by the authority faced severe water shortages, and limits were placed on the amount of water households could use per day.

However, property developers seeking to build in the area opposed the decision and took the authorities to court claiming the ban was unjustified.

Shortages already present in area before ban

The developers said the authorities had not provided enough evidence of the water shortages during the planning permission process, which they were set to pass before the ban was put in place.

They claimed this meant their proposals fell in line with ecological rules.

The administrative court in Toulon, however, pointed to a study conducted by the Pays de Fayence authorities in 2021, which showed “a very short-term water shortage” in the area after two local boreholes dried up and a third was running critically low.

This was proof enough of water shortages despite the supposed ‘short-term’ nature of the problem, it said.

Judges also highlighted the 2022 drought restrictions in the area, which included bans on filling swimming pools throughout much of the year.

Read more: Stop stigmatising us during droughts, say pool owners in France

A local water board had also reacted unfavourably to the developers’ request for planning permission.

Lawyers for the developers said they may appeal the decision, as water issues had existed for a long time in the area and were “partly due to poor maintenance of the network.”

They are undertaking an analysis of previously accepted and rejected permits before the ban was put in place as part of their research.

Will this affect my property renovations?

There are only a handful of communes where such rules are currently in place.

However after this ruling, more communes may opt for this strategy as a way to help tackle water shortages in the hardest-hit areas.

In Pays de Fayence, the ban is on new ‘permis de construire’.

Read more: Do all property extensions in France require an architect?

These are given for the building of new homes or for large new buildings on an existing plot of land that already has a main property.

In some cases, they can also be required for large renovations of an existing property.

Smaller projects usually only require a ‘Déclaration préalable de travaux’ (DP, prior works declaration).

These were not banned by the Pays de Fayence authorities, however they do have the right to deny approval for DP requests.

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