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Building & Renovation

Planning Hurdles in Rural Areas

Wednesday 01 August 2012

National planning regulations in France mean that you cannot assume you will be able to construct a pool or a garage on your property.

Within all villages and towns of France there are areas where new development is permitted ('zones constructible') and those not zoned for development ('zones non-constructible').

The broad principle that operates in zones non-constructible is that the only new development permitted is alterations to an existing property.

This principle is enshrined in Article L. 111-1-2 of the Code de l'urbanisme, which states extensions and alterations to an existing home are allowed, subject to other local regulations.

In relation to what constitutes an 'extension', the highest administrative court in France, the Council d’Etat, confirmed in 2005 that ‘qui n’est pas attendant a un bâtiment à usage d’habitation existant ne saurait être regardée…comme constituant une extension de celui-ci’.

Accordingly, in such areas, only where local councils had in place a local plan that specifically provided for new construction to be allowed within the vicinity of existing buildings is it possible for the owner to put in a swimming pool, detached garage or other detached building.

This general principle is worth repeating, for many new home owners assume they can do pretty much what they want within the grounds of their own property.

Many rural communes, in particular, do not have a local plan in place that would enable them to grant consent to owners for a pool or detached garage.

In other cases, only a very rudimentary local plan, called a Carte Communale, is in place, but such a plan merely demarcates those areas for permitted development and those where no development at all is allowed.

Only where councils have prepared a Plan Local d’urbanisme (PLU), which can contain more detailed planning regulations, is it possible to formally make provision for new building works outside of development areas.

To all of this, however, we need to add a strong caveat. In practice, whatever the formal position, many local councils and local prefectures turn a blind eye to the strict interpretation of the regulations and are prepared to grant consent for minor development on existing property.

Nevertheless, the use of such discretion cannot be assumed.

So, if you are in any doubt, you need to make your property purchase subject to planning consent or a works declaration being agreed for any project you have in mind.


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