Are you a developer? What a development actually is

Are you a developer? What is considered a development and what it isn't

To be or not to be a developer, a confusing topic for many and a term important to know before making a Planning Application. Why? I’ll tell you all about it below.

This topic might seem too obvious for some and a bit confusing for others. This particularly happens between Property Investors. You will find people very thrown to call themselves developers because it sounds very impressive, whilst others hold on for a long time just because they are scared of the criticism. 

Despite the confusion, what is clear is that a Developer is someone who makes developments. I think we can all agree with that. But, what is a property development? and why is important to know the real meaning of the term?

Why is important to know what is a development

Different people will have different opinions so it doesn’t really matter to be the person who is right or wrong in a conversation. However, I think It is important to know what is considered to be a development as set out in Section 55 of the Town and Country Act 1990 because it will help you to determine if you need a Planning Application or not for the works you intend to carry out on a property or site.

As a general rule, every work that is considered a DEVELOPMENT needs a Planning Application unless it is exempt.

Now that I have probably convinced you of the importance of knowing the meaning of the exact term, let’s get into it!

What is a development?

In simple words, the following works are considered to be developments and therefore would require a Planning Application. Exemptions always apply too, you’ll find a note about it in the end. 

Building Operations

Everything that alters the structure, construction or demolition of a site or a building. This is because building works have an impact on the appearance, the character of the street or affect the rights of other neighbours (ex. rights for light). The impact that we can make on our neighbour´s property with the works done in ours is not only important for the sake of our relationship with them but because they own rights over their plot or property that might be affected by what we do. Even if they don´t care much about some minor work, a future buyer might do. 

There are also specific National and Local Policies orientated to achieve different goals for the area. You might not think about it, but every Council set up goals on their Local Plan for the number and location of commercial units, social housing, job-creating businesses etc and the character, appearance and use of your property contributes towards it. 

I can almost hear you thinking… “Yeah, right! because a semi-detached house in the middle of nowhere can affect employment in the area”. Well, I agree with you until a certain point. Would your street look the same if those beautiful Magnolia trees blooming in spring wouldn´t be there anymore? Does it matter if everybody starts building a 6 level tower on their garden lowering the value of properties on that street? Some of these policies also prevent high-rise buildings to overshadow and damaging the character of Westminster Abbey and the Parliament for example. It´s just hard to see where the limits should be.

Just as a note, you can find the Local Plan of your area in your Council´s Portal. If you are not sure about which is your Local Council, you can find it here. You will then be able to find the Local Plan in the Planning and Development section. It´s a great resource of information about the areas where your Local Council is planning to invest highly in the coming years. Don´t you think that would be an advantage over your fellow investors or developers? Invest in a low key area knowing that there are plans and systems in place to increase its value?

Change of use of a site or building

This is when you want to make an HMO or when you want to convert offices into residential. As with the previous point, the change of use of a site or a building would have an impact on the area and your Local Council would have a say about it according to their Policies. I would say that a change of use is particularly important for the economy of the neighbourhood. Property Investing is of course an economic activity too and making a business out of an HMO would attract people, have an impact on rentals and property prices, create jobs etc. Although it is a hassle and sometimes regulations are a bit restrictive, this is considered development and a Planning Application would be required.

The key here is to understand what the Council is looking for and support your application with as much data and information that you can to drive the process to approval. Your goals and the Council’s need to align to get approval for this instance.

Subdivision of a building into flats, houses or parts.

Splitting properties or sites makes a huge impact on a location. The quality of the units might be improved or reduced and the property values in the area might be affected. Generally, this one is always considered development by everybody. However, splitting titles and transactions of these types are still considered development even if the “developer” never touches a stone on site. Can you be considered a developer then? In the strict meaning of the term that we are discussing here, yes you can.


Since I’m not involved in Engineering and Mining operations, I will leave these two under “others”, but be aware that these two are also considered developments.

Engineering operations

Mining operations

What is not a development?

Let’s consider now what is not considered a Development as per section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.  Basically, everything that doesn’t have an external impact or a big change of use is not a Development.

  • Interior alterations
  • Building operations that do not affect the external appearance of a building. 
  • A change in the primary use of land or buildings, where the change falls within the same use class.

What are the exemptions?

For me, a Developer is someone who “develops” something. Obvious, right? It isn’t though so obvious since some exemptions apply like with everything and that is where all the confusion can start.

Following some rules, you might be able to avoid a Planning Application despite doing a Development.

There may also be a locally granted planning permission in place that covers the type of development you wish to undertake, in the form of a Local Development Order, a Neighbourhood Development Order or a Community Right to Build Order.

Permitted Development Rights

These are the most important exemptions for me and you have surely heard to talk about this. Most people don’t want a 6 floors block on their gardens but rather a simple rear extension. That’s why the Permitted Development Rights allow you to make a Development if you follow a series of parameters set to protect the area, its character and your neighbour’s right. 

You can find the Permitted Development Rights guidance for householders here.

Be aware that there might be other restrictions set out by your Council in your specific area, but I will leave this probably for another post. My recommendation will still be to submit a Certificate of Lawful Development to the Local Planning Authority to make sure everything complies with the Local Policies. In the end… it might not be a full application, but you still need to do something with Planning.


These are other exemptions that can make your Development not need a Planning Application like for example a locally granted planning permission in the form of a Local Development Order, a Neighbourhood Development Order or a Community Right to Build Order. 

As mentioned before, you will find all that information in the Local Plan and its Policies under the Planning and Development section of your Council’s website.

In conclusion

Technically, a Developer is someone who makes Developments and those are perfectly described in Section 55 of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This definition is important because it determines if you are likely to need a Planning Application or not. As a general summary, everything that affects the building externally or in terms of its use could be considered a Development and therefore in need of a Planning Application.

That said, this doesn’t mean that you would be exempt from requesting other types of permission from the Local Planning Authority like for example:

  • Building Regulations
  • Environmental permits
  • Works to protected trees
  • Advertisement consent
  • Listed building consent
  • Hazardous substances consent
I hope this post has helped you to be better informed about what it is a Developer and a Development in terms of Planning and properties.
are you a developer?

Don't miss a thing...

Subscribe now to receive news, blog posts and tips directly to your e-mail.

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *