Obtaining planning permission in France

In the last few years, I have noticed an increase in buyers looking for either plots of land to build their own grand design or for rural barns that can be converted into flexible living accommodation. While in theory, this seems like a good option and, in the past has been relatively simple in France, planning laws have become much more restrictive, particularly in the countryside so it is worth being aware of the planning process in France before going down this route.

Buying a plot of land and building a new property
The planning regulations concerning building property in the French countryside are becoming tighter and new construction in open countryside is generally not permitted in order to protect farmland and agriculture as well as the natural environment.

There are however always exceptions because, while the planning laws are defined at national level, it is at the local level that these laws are interpreted. This means that the decision comes down to the local authorities as to what type of planning they allow. These decisions are determination by the rules that apply to the local plan, known as the Plan Local d’Urbanisme (PLU) or the more limited Carte Communale, which is more common in rural areas. These plans outline the areas where new residential buildings are allowed and where they are not within set boundaries. These will include various zones for example; constructible zones, non-constructible zones, woodland zones and agricultural zones.
In addition, there may also be in place a risk prevention plans called Plan de Prévention des Risques (PRR), which are becoming more important in terms of zones where building is and is not allowed relative to perceived natural dangers such as flooding or seismic zones.

Barn Conversion
Most local plans can authorise change of use of a former agricultural building such as converting a barn to living accommodation provided such a change of use does not compromise agricultural activity or the quality of the landscape.
However, in giving consideration to an application or change of use, the commune must also take into consideration the condition of the existing building, the services available, and changes that may be envisaged to the volume of the building. In practice this often means that a barn attached to an existing dwelling will be given planning permission whereas, for example, an ancient barn on its own with no utilities close by will not. In addition, in protected rural areas such as the national park of the Ariège Pyrénées, it is now very difficult to get planning permission to convert a mountain barn into living accommodation as the rules to protect the natural environment take priority. This is why mountain barns which have already been given ‘habitation’ status or already have outline planning permission from earlier are very hard to find and very expensive.

Planning law is generally most favourable in the countryside when it comes to extensions to existing residential dwellings. Existing homeowners in agricultural or natural zones have the right to build ‘annexes’ and a make change of use to their property. This is, however, generally restricted to an extension that is smaller than the existing building and attached to it.
Separate garages, garden sheds and other independent annexes and swimming pools are not covered, but most local plans allow for such development. In all cases, development will remain subject to not infringing third-party rights, such as overlooking or proximity to the perimeter of the property.

For anyone looking to design a bespoke house, certainly a plot of land appears to be the most obviously appealing prospect but it is also the most difficult in terms of finding the perfect plot and getting planning permission. Hence a better option might be to look for a property that has an attached barn that could be converted or for a small property with the potential for conversion.

If you need help with your property search, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com



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