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Improve or Move? Study reveals the hardest places in the UK to renovate a home 

  • Brits are currently facing a time of economic uncertainty, especially when it comes to skyrocketing mortgage rates, high property prices and energy bills. 

So, with continued mixed signals from experts, it’s hardly surprising that Google searches for ‘extension’ and ‘renovation’ are up 22 percent. 

But while the idea of making home improvements may seem like a sensible alternative to moving house right now, your local council has the final say when it comes to planning permission and, with many still experiencing lengthy delays post-pandemic, what does that mean for your renovation project?   

With that in mind, specialist home insurer Homeprotect conducted a study to assess 308 councils’ planning permission practices between 2013-2023 to determine where in the country has the most challenging approval process for extending or renovating a house.   

Hardest Places to Renovate in the UK 
Overall Rank* Council Planning Permission Decisions Within 8 Weeks Planning Permission Approvals 
308 Bedford 25% 59% 
307 Reading 16% 66% 
306 Folkestone and Hythe 26% 63% 
305 Brighton and Hove 31% 59% 
304 Somerset West and Taunton 27% 65% 
303 Crawley 34% 54% 
302 Woking 31% 61% 
301 Malvern Hills 31% 63% 
300 Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole 27% 67% 
299 Staffordshire Moorlands 29% 66% 

Leading the pack as the hardest place to renovate in the UK is Bedford, Bedfordshire, where in the last 10 years, just 25 percent of its 1,373 planning permission applications were decided within eight weeks, with only 59 percent approved at all. 

At £264,386, estimated house prices in the council area are just below the national average, meaning it’s more affordable than in other areas.  

Reading residents also face challenges when it comes to renovations – while it has a slightly better approval rate than Bedford, with 66 percent of its 659 planning applications being approved in the last 10 years, it is the second slowest council for approvals, with 84 percent of those decisions taking longer than eight weeks, meaning many Berkshire residents would have faced extensive delays before they could proceed with their plans. 

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As a highly populated commuter town with the average house costing £287,730, housing experts are calling Reading a ‘landlords market’ with more people opting to rent rather than buy, and a large number of houses being converted into self-contained flats in the area to make room. 

While planning permission is not necessarily required to convert properties for up to six people, it was announced last year that Reading Borough Council was cracking down on the issue by approving a policy to place a limit on conversion to 25 percent of homes within certain areas of the town, meaning permission would be required, which will no doubt exacerbate issues with delays. 

Meanwhile, Folkestone and Hythe is the third on the list, with nearly three-quarters of its planning permission applications taking longer than eight weeks for a decision. 

Despite lengthy delays on householder planning applications, Folkestone and Hythe District Council recently revealed that their priorities lie in building new homes, with the Planning and Licensing committee recently approving plans for a new 8,500 ‘garden town’ to be built, much to the dismay of concerned residents. 

Making up the bottom five hardest places to renovate are Brighton and Hove and Somerset West and Taunton. 

Brighton and Hove City Council has had just over half (59%) of its 2,740 planning applications approved in the last decade, with 69% taking longer than eight weeks to be approved. 

Somerset West and Taunton residents were slightly luckier, with 65 percent of applications approved overall, yet just 27 percent were decided on within eight weeks. 

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You can view the full study here.  

David Joyson, Chief Customer Officer at home insurance specialist, Homeprotect, commented on the findings: 

“With the UK currently facing a cost-of-living crisis, renovating rather than moving might be the best solution for many. 

“Yet, as the study reveals, this may not be so easy for some due to lengthy delays or outright planning permission refusals. 

“It’s best to get prepared ahead of renovation works by checking if your existing home insurance policy will cover you for your planned works, as in some cases it may be necessary to take out a specialist renovation policy. 

“Here are some additional tips to consider: 

#1 Select a qualified tradesperson 

“Always select well-qualified and experienced tradespeople to take on the job  – it’s sensible to check if they are a member of the Federation of Master Builders, to confirm if they hold the right level of public liability cover (minimum £1 million) and whether they have a CAR (Contractors All Risk policy) in place, as well as asking for references from recent work. 

“It’s best to be thorough with your own due diligence in finding reputable contractors who have all of the right insurance and policies in place, as this can help protect you if an issue occurs as a result of their work causing damage to your property, e.g. water damage caused by bad plumbing. 

#2 Invest in security measures 

“It’s worth checking your home insurance policy details to see what security measures you’re expected to take. For example, investing in a lock that conforms to British Standard BS3621, burglar alarm, security lights, key operated lockable windows and not leaving expensive items on show are all sensible ways to keep your belongings safe. 

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“But don’t forget that bigger renovations inevitably increase the risk of burglary.  

“Security is weakened by open and exposed entry points during extensions (especially on the ground floor or if you have direct access into a garden), while some people may leave keys out to allow builders in during working hours. 

“Your insurance may be invalid if thieves can enter your home without force, so make smart decisions, such as ensuring the house is occupied at all times or leaving your key in a safe. 

“It’s also worth considering whether you would actually need to move out while renovations are being done – if your house is unoccupied for more than 30 – 60 days you may need to get unoccupied property insurance from a specialist insurance provider. 

#3 Keep track of paperwork  

“All renovations that alter a property will need Building Control approval. And, if you’re looking to convert more than 50 cubic metres of space or extend and alter the structure of your property, you’ll need to seek planning permission. 

“Without the right paperwork in place that shows you’ve complied with building regulations, your insurer might see the work as ‘incomplete’ and refuse to pay out in the event of a claim. 

#4 Declare any projects to your insurer before you start works 

“Any larger projects costing over a certain amount will usually need to be declared to your insurer, so it’s best to contact your existing insurer to let them know you’re planning top undertake work to avoid the risk of invalidating your policy. 

“By telling your insurer in advance, they can recalculate the rebuild cost of your house and amend the terms of your policy. This should ensure you have the right building insurance to cover your property while it’s being renovated (and once the works are completed) or contents insurance to cover any new belongings you’re planning on filling this space with.”  

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