Moving to France for a new life or job is a big enough event to deal with, but it can be a great deal more complicated if you are planning to build your own home there too. Just like in the UK, new buildings require formal planning permission in France, and there is a strict process involved in applying for permission. A ‘permis de construire’ must, in the majority of cases, be granted before your builders can commence work. By understanding the system used in France, you can ensure your project is legally compliant and not susceptible to unnecessary delays.
The initial application process
There are two main types of ‘permis de construire’: a 'permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes' for residential homes and a 'Permis de construire generale' for general purposes. For both types of planning application, a registered architect must lodge the application. Indeed, the application will not be investigated unless an architect has prepared plans and written statements to support the application. The proposed building's layout, dimensions, elevations and building materials need to be included in the application. If your property is solely for residential use and covers less than 170 square metres, the use of an architect is not a legal requirement - but it is still recommended.
Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes
An application form for a ‘Permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes’ will have a specific section for any proposed swimming pools, garages, conservatories and garden outhouses. It will also include space to enter the details of future purchasers or neighbours who might be affected by the proposed build. This initial application can now be submitted by email in the form of PDF files.
A recent change in planning regulations in France means that the contact details and registration numbers of the architect who drew up the plans will need to accompany the application. It is illegal for an architect to put their name to plans that were drawn up by someone else.
If you are planning to submit plans without the help of an architect, you will need to make sure that your project covers no more than 170 square metres. You should then pay a visit to the ‘Conseils d'Architecture, d'Urbanisme et d'Environnement’ (CAUE) in order to have professional advice on the accuracy and suitability of your plans. There will be a box on the application form for your ‘permis de construire’, which you should complete in order to confirm that you have sought professional advice. Failure to do this could significantly delay your application.
When is a permis de construire maison et/ou ses annexes required ?
Any property that will have more than 20 square metres of living space will require formal planning permission. However, there are a range of other building and improvement works that require a permis de construire. They include:
- Any work that modifies a load-bearing structure
- Any changes to a building's facade that are accompanied by a change of use to the building
- Increasing the volume of a home along with the addition of a new opening, including an extension with windows
- Building swimming pools of over 100 square metres or more than 1.8 metres deep
Detailed scaled drawings will need to accompany the application, including floor plans and elevation plans.
A written statement is also required detailing the likely visual impact on the local area. This statement should include details on the building materials used, their quality and their colour. You should also provide information on how the new building will blend in with its new surroundings.
Submitting your application
You will be required to submit 4 copies of your application to the local town hall (‘Mairie’). An application will include all your detailed plans, written statements and any other pertinent documents. If your home is to be constructed within or near a historic monument, a conservation area, a National Park or an area prone to seismic activity, you may be asked to provide further copies. A registered architect, your local ‘Mairie’ or a planning expert will be able to guide you through the process of submitting your application to minimise delays.
If you are proposing to build on an area susceptible to seismic or cyclonic activity, you will also need to provide a supplementary study on how your proposed building will withstand these extra forces. Statements and calculations from specialists may be required to support your own assertions.
While it is possible to submit a planning application for a small, residential property yourself, the sheer complexity of the regulations can mean that your interests will be much better served if you enlist the services of a registered architect. The expert advice, experience and knowledge of planning regulations in France will come at a price, but having professional help can give you the peace of mind in knowing that your investment is protected.